The Unicorn Ranch
by Michael Lanty

Life on the RM Ranch had been quiet for years. A few goats and emus were the only big animals along with a handful of chickens and a couple of turkeys. Then in early July, while Lanty's wife was far away in Boston visiting an old friend, Lanty stopped in to see a horse auction. Not intending to buy, actually looking for a cool place to sit for a while, he spotted a group of six fillies that were pale in color and very slender. These were definitely not good cattle horses, and probably too small to even ride decently. As the sale progressed these six fillies kept being pushed back for larger, more interesting horses. More interesting that is to everyone except Lanty, for he kept hearing a voice calling to him whenever he looked away from them. He would catch snippets of a conversation that seemed to be far away but yet in his head. Finally in desperation he starred directly at the fillies and heard, "Well it's about time you paid attention."

This caught Lanty off guard as he knew immediately that the voice was coming from the small, pale filly in front of the other five. Although he hadn't seen her mouth move, and would have been surprised if it had, and no one else even heard or noticed the words directed at him. He wanted to answer or at least ask how he could hear her but, talking to a horse from across a crowded room might get him noticed, and not in a good way. His only choice was to get down off the stands and go around to the viewing area and get close enough to figure out what was happening but, getting down meant going out and around the stands and coming back in the side door. As Lanty started to leave the stands he heard five voices in unison exclaim, "Now you have scared him off. What do we do now?" Lanty stopped in mid step and slowly turned to face the fillies. Lifting his right hand he held up one finger, as if to say just a minute, and pointed to the door by the viewing area and visibly shuddered at the audible sigh he, and no one else, heard.

The rest of the crowd heard the loud ruckus as six pale, skinny fillies rushed around towards the back of the viewing area. "Maybe somebody should open that darn door and let those useless excuses for horses out!" exclaimed one old timer. While another just sighed, "Even the glue factory wouldn't want that bunch." This just caused the fillies to become more agitated while the rancher, who had brought them in hoping to get rid of them, sat red faced and trying not to bring any attention to himself.

It took Lanty a couple of minutes to get to the viewing area. He passed a concession stand along the way and had to get something cold and wet to steady his nerves. He knew horses didn't talk to people, and his mind was racing trying to figure out what was going on. Rather than sneak out, which would have been easy, he had to go and see for himself why he heard the voices. Passing through the doorway into the viewing area he was surprised to see the six fillies lined up with their heads stretched over the rails looking directly at him, and a voice that very sternly said "What took you so long?"

Now Lanty knew he was either going mad or the fillies were talking to him. He knew his own mind and that he was more or less sane but, he still couldn't explain the voices in his head. So there was only one thing to do. He looked at the six pale, frail fillies and said "Which one of you is in my head?"

The answer was quick and simple, "I am" "I am" "I am" "I am" "I am" "I am."

"Ok now how about one of you talk to me and explain this and the rest just keep quiet" he said calmly while trying to get the 'I am' echoes out of his mind.

After a brief flurry of what appeared to be conversation between the fillies, of which Lanty could only pick out bits and pieces, one stood up a little taller and quietly said "I will speak for all of us and try not to overwhelm you. What shall I call you?"

"Just call me Lanty, and what pray tell is your name and how is it that I can understand what a horse is thinking?" was the only reply possible.

"My name is Annabelle, and I am not a horse" was the response in Lanty's head.

Now arguing with a horse that is talking in his head was not something he did every day but, he had to respond with "Well Annabelle, if you and your friends are not horses, which my eyes seem to be telling me you are, although rather pale and frail versions, exactly what are you?"

"My dear sir, we are unicorns" was the rather curt reply followed by what appeared to be agitated conversation between all six.

Lanty was just about to answer with a comment about 'no horns' when he heard voices coming into the viewing area from behind him. "No, John, I don't know who the stallion was that got my six best mares, but if I ever do catch him, he will wish he had never come around my place." said, Red, the red-faced owner of the six "unicorns" standing in front of Lanty. "Just look at them. Who would want to buy them?"

Old John gave a short whistle and trying to be polite to his friend acknowledged "Well they are small and pale looking but, maybe a carnival pony ride might be able to use them," as he tried to stifle a smirk.

Red seemed even more down and knowing that the sale was about over and the auction crew hadn't even considered putting the six on the block, turned to his friend and said, "I would be willing to give them away just to be rid of them and not have to haul them home. Besides, I just bought six good looking mares and I need the trailer space to take them home."

This caught Lanty's attention and he heard a flurry of voices telling him to "Make an offer. Say you will take us. Hurry before he leaves."

"Shush!" Lanty blurted out, which caught Red and John's attention and caused them to look at him. A quick glance at them and Lanty knew he must say something before they thought he was mad. "Sir, I understand that you own these fine animals and would like to find a good home for them?"

"Well, they are fine animals, and they do need a good home. But, I just don't know what to ask as it looks like they won't be on the sale block today." Red replied.

Now Lanty didn't have much money in his wallet and his bank account wasn't much better off. However, he couldn't let the 'unicorns' go without an offer of some kind so he said, "I would love to take them back to my place and let them graze on my back pasture to keep the weeds down. They wouldn't be worth much more than that." Which prompted a flurry of protests in his head that he cut off with a quick glance and a wink. "But, I don't have very much on me right now and I don't even have a trailer to put them in."

John spoke up with, "I have an empty trailer and would be willing to haul them back to your place. It is here in the county isn't it?"

"Sure, just up the road a piece on the way to Bronte."

"No problem then as I will be heading up that way myself."

"So now we have to settle on a price." Lanty said as he turned to Red with a questioning look on his face.

"How about you help load them on the trailer and promise not to tell anyone where you got them." said Red, realizing that he could be free of them and not have to even transport them. And turning to John he said, "You do this for me and promise not to tell anyone about this and you can have one of my colts next spring."

"Deal" said Lanty and John almost at the same time which prompted a slight laugh by both and a flurry of congratulations in Lanty's head from six excited fillies. This led to a quick round of hand shakes to seal the deal and in a matter of minutes John had his trailer backed up to the gate and everyone was surprised as to how easily the six fillies were loaded. It was like they knew what to do. As each one passed Lanty he heard a quiet "Thanks" in his head and as the last one passed he heard "Home please." Lanty helped John secure the tail gate on the trailer and gave directions to his place, then everyone got in their respective pickups and headed to the RM Ranch. The trip out was rather uneventful as John followed Lanty the short distance home. But every once in a while Lanty could hear bits of excited conversation in his head and he said to no one in particular, "I hope this doesn't keep up all night, I do need some sleep."

The arrival at the ranch and the unloading of the 'horses' went off without a hitch. After some pleasantries and the usual cowboy hand shakes and thanks, John drove off feeling that he had helped an old friend save face and given some poor, ugly horses a home. Meanwhile, Lanty went through the proper thanks and goodbyes while fighting a swarm of garbled unicorn chat about how nice the ranch looked, where to bed down, and something about how to find the boys. This last part, only in short snippets, was a little confusing as to 'Who were the boys?'.

The first thing Lanty had to do was herd the unicorns across the small front pasture, through a gate, and into the back pasture, which was to be their new home. Of course this was no easy task as they didn't understand why they had to leave the nice front pasture near the house. Lanty tried to explain about more privacy, less chance of being seen by people on the road, and just easier to deal with the whole situation. "The barn in the back pasture is as nice as the house?" came a voice in his head. "How about shade trees and nice grass to munch?" came another voice. "The spring with clean, clear water is back there?" was also heard.

"Let's go see what we have," was Lanty's only reply, trying not to sound too insincere as he led the way to the gate. Going through was not too hard until the emus and Thornton the goat were seen by the unicorns. And once again Lanty's head was filled with snippets of complaint as in "What are those?" "Do we have to share our home with that?"

"They live here too, and have for several years. You are the guests or shall we say new kids on the block so behave and you will learn to get along," was Lanty's reply. As he shut the gate behind him.

The unicorns spread out quickly and explored their new home. Running excitedly around the six or so acres of the back pasture. Just as suddenly as they had run off they came back, and once again came the voices. "Where is the barn?" "I didn't see a spring." "No lush fields of clover, and not much green grass." "Did anybody see the boys?"

"No there isn't a barn yet, hopefully in a while, and there is no spring, just the water trough fed by the well," Lanty said followed by "And who or what are 'the boys'?"

"No barn, where are we to sleep?" "How long is a while?" "No spring, how are we to live?" "The 'boys' are 'the boys'." Came the voices amongst many that poor Lanty could not understand.

"Ladies!" yelled Lanty, "you have to stop talking all at once. I can only understand some of what you say and it gives me a headache. Now Annabelle, please talk to me one on one, and the rest of you just listen. Now, I never said anything about a barn or spring. And once again, who or what are 'the boys'?"

Six faces stared at Lanty and he could barely hear conversations flying between the six of them. Finally Annabelle said, "We just assumed there was a barn and a spring, the prophecy said there would be both. And the 'boys' are the two young colts, our age, who will be the stallions to our new herd once we grow up." A little more conversation and then "Don't you know where to find them?"

"No, I don't know a thing about two male unicorns around here," Lanty replied. "And thanks for toning down the noise, it is a lot less painful in my head."

A brief flurry of conversation and Annabelle said, "If you will excuse us for a few minutes we have to take another look around and discuss what to do next."

Lanty thought that a little peace and quiet would be nice so he said, "That sounds fine with me, I have to go inside for a while and get a few things done anyway." And go home is what he did, a little dinner after realizing that he hadn't eaten in quite a while, something cold to drink, and sitting down with his boots off and just relaxing felt great. Relax he did, waking with a start hours later and realizing that it was almost dark and very quiet. Lanty jumped up and decided he had a lot of chores to do; feed and water the dogs, cats, goats, emus, and chickens, and water the plants. This took some time and since the voices in his head had been quiet for some time he began to think maybe he had been dreaming, so after the chores were done a tired Lanty curled up in bed for a good night's sleep.

Morning came with a start and cries of "Well where are you?" "Has he deserted us?" "Do we break down the fence?" Lanty jumped up and ran out into the yard. Looking across the fence to the back he saw the six unicorns standing there waiting for him. Lanty said, "Please just hold on for a few minutes, I have to get dressed and get something to eat." Then Lanty froze in his tracks and starred beyond the six frail looking horses at the large medieval barn that stood just behind them. It had an old world look to it but, it hadn't been there the day before. Poor Lanty shook his head and holding up his hand to silence the voices turned and went back into the house determined to get his life back and maybe some sanity along the way.

An hour later, after a hot shower and some hotter coffee, he returned to the fence and looking at the unicorns said rather quietly, "Where did that come from?" pointing to the barn.

Annabelle quietly said, "We had it built last night. We couldn't sleep outside in the night air now could we?"

"I know I will regret asking," Lanty inquired, "but how did you have it built?"

"There are creatures that you would call the 'little people' that owe us a lot for past interactions with our kind. They work at night and can be quite fast and reliable when needed." was Annabelle's reply.

"I guess that there is a spring somewhere back there bubbling with fresh, clean, clear water too?" was his only response.

"Well actually there is an artesian well flowing into a large urn for drinking, and the overflow goes into a small pond for bathing and frolicking." was the reply.

"And fields of clover and honeysuckle in the back pasture?" Lanty quipped.

"Of course not, nothing like that will grow out here in this desert!" Annabelle replied with a stomp of her hoof followed by a chorus of "Too hot and dry" "Horrible desert" "Oh, for the lush forests of our ancestors."

"Ok ladies, please hold down the complaints. We still have to settle the problem of the 'boys' whoever or whatever they are." Lanty said with a shake of his head to get rid of the voices.

"For the last time, the boys are two young colts who will be our stallions when they grow up. And you have to find them soon as they are already six months old and will begin to grow their unicorn horns once they reach a year old." Came Annabelle's reply with a quick glance at the others to keep down the chatter.

With a start Lanty inquired, "Grow horns at a year? And I guess yours will start to grow then too? And exactly where or how do I find them?" With a stare Lanty stopped the expected chatter and turning to walk away threw over his shoulder, "Let me know when you have figured this all out. I have other animals to attend to and chores to do."

As he walked away he could hear the protests of "Animals!" "He called us animals!" "You come back here right now and apologize." Once again with a flip of his hand to ask for quiet, Lanty went into the house to settle in for some time alone. As lunch time rolled around he decided to watch the local news while eating to take his mind off the events of the last two days. Not five minutes into the news was the story about a local rancher who was looking for the owner of the stallion which had jumped his fence last year and was the sire of two of the ugliest, skinniest colts he had ever seen. Lanty starred at the screen in amazement as he saw two skinny, frail colts the same pale color as his six fillies, running around a small corral. Quickly writing down the name of the rancher and the ranch name he grabbed the phone book and started searching for a number to call. Ten minutes later he was talking to the owner of the two colts and working out a way to go see them with the possibility of bringing them home. Heading out the door and jumping into the old red pickup truck he once again heard the voices, "Where are you going?" "Come back here." which he ignored.

A short drive north and then west soon found our unicorn hunter at a small horse ranch just west of Robert Lee. Upon arrival he saw an old ranch house with several horse stalls and a pen, which contained two small, frail horses the same light color as his six fillies. Lanty pulled up in the driveway and walked over to the pen and looked at the colts. The rancher came out of the barn and wondered over to see what the stranger wanted and politely asked, "What brings you out here?"

Lanty quietly replied, "I saw you on the news and talked to you earlier about seeing these two colts. They sure do look interesting. Mind if I go in and get a closer look?"

"Be my guest," was the simple reply.

Lanty went into the pen and walked up to the colts and quietly said, so as not to be heard by the rancher, "Annabelle and her sisters say hi." Which brought a flurry of activity as the colts pawed the ground and looked confused, to which Lanty added, "I know you can talk to me. What are your names?"

"You can hear us?" was the reply.

"Of course I can." was his answer. "Now let's get the introductions over with and I'll see if I can get you back to my place where you can be with the six unicorn fillies that I have."

This brought a flurry of excited voices to include: "You know about us?" "You have the fillies?"

"Yes and yes, now do you want to go with me or not?' he said.

"My name is Acelin and this is my brother Abiron and we are glad to meet you and would love to go home with you," Acelin said.

"Ok, just follow me and play along and I'll do my best. Oh, and be quiet." Lanty said as he turned and walked back to the rancher with the two colts on his heels. As he went through the gate he said to the rancher, "They are small and frail, but would be perfect for my little place. I need a couple horses to graze on a small pasture. I will give them a good home and lots of care. Would you be willing to get rid of them or do you plan on raising a herd like them?"

"Raising more like them! You must be mad. As a matter of fact I was hoping to find someone to take them off my hands. So make me an offer." the rancher said.

Lanty smiled and said, "Ok, here is my offer, I'll take them off your hands and promise to give them a good home and not let them breed with any other horses. Wouldn't want to have more like them." Which brought a quick "What!" from Acelin, which was silenced by a quick glance and wave of Lanty's hand.

Two hours later, having made the rancher an offer he couldn't refuse, Lanty pulled into the driveway and backed the small horse trailer he had borrowed up to the gate into the back pasture. With yelps of joy and pleasure ringing in his ears, he watched the six fillies running around and heard "They are here!" "He found them!" "Do I look ok?"

Annabell shushed the others and said, "This is quite a surprise. Where did you find them?"

While opening the gate and the trailer door he looked at her and said, "It was pure accident that I found out where they were just a few hours ago, and I figured this might make you happy and give me some peace and quiet as well." With a final flourish as the two colts cleared the trailer and ran into the pasture Lanty said, "Ladies may I present Abiron and Acelin."

The commotion for the next several minutes was a joy to watch as eight pale, fragile young unicorns ran around getting to know each other and frolicking about. Lanty watched for a couple of minutes, while being bombarded with snippets of conversation. He felt a headache coming on and slowly turned heading for home when out of the commotion he heard, "Aren't you going to stay and enjoy the moment with us?" He turned slightly and said, "No thanks, Annabelle, I'll let you get to know the boys and settle them in. I'll be back later to find out what other surprises you have for me." Then he turned and slowly headed home, waving his hand as he heard a quiet "Thank you." Back in the house he glanced at the calendar and realized that in the morning his wife would be returning from her trip. His mind began to race as he thought as to how he would explain the unicorns, the barn, the new well, and who knows what else the unicorns had in store for him. Of course, he had to do a little housework and get things ready for the homecoming, a quick trip to the grocery store for a restock of food, and a little laundry that had to be done. He went back outside to the fence to let the unicorns know that they would be on their own for the rest of the day as he would be busy.

Annabelle listened to his explanation of what he had to do and quietly said, "You go to town and get the food you need, we will take care of the rest while you are gone."

Lanty nodded in agreement and turning to go said to himself "Yeah right." Not knowing what the unicorns are capable of when they want to do something.

The drive to town was filled with thoughts of all he had to do back at home, how to explain the unicorns to his wife, and what the little darlings would do while he was gone. Shopping was just as full of what to buy while trying to hurry to get home. On the way home Lanty thought out loud to himself, "What did I get myself into? Where did my quiet, peaceful life go?" He was relieved to see nothing out of the ordinary when he got home but, was surprised when he went inside. Everything was cleaned spotless, no dust anywhere, all the dishes done and put away, and even the laundry done. Walking outside after the groceries were put up he went to the fence and quietly said, "Thank you" then returned to the house with a quiet, "You're welcome" in his head.

The next morning was a mad dash to the airport and the happy thrill to have his wife home. However, the drive home was full of tension. She could tell that he had something on his mind and he had no way of telling her the truth. Lanty finally decided to soften the blow a little by telling a little white lie as part of the conversation about what had been happening for the past two weeks, "While you were gone I picked up a couple of young horses to add to the ranch."

With a somewhat surprised look on her face she said, "How many is a couple?" and "How much did they cost?"

Thinking to himself that these would probably be the easiest question he was going to get he sighed and replied, "Well, a couple in this case is six fillies and two colts that are a little skinny and pale. The best part is that they didn't cost a thing, just a promise to give them a good home."

She could sense that there was more to the story than he was telling. However, she felt that it would be best not to push but just wait and see what happened. She spent the rest of the trip home talking about the things she had done in Boston and what the weather had been like, etc.

Arriving home she headed straight into the house figuring on getting settled in before seeing the new animals. Walking in she noticed that something was different. It took a few seconds then she realized that the house was clean, not just clean but spotless. There wasn't a speck of dirt, not even a dust bunny. The kitchen was immaculate, the dishes all done and put away, and every piece of metal shined. The bedroom was in the same condition; all the laundry done and put away and the bed perfectly made. This had her curious and maybe a little jealous, as Lanty walked into the room she turned to him and quietly asked, "Who is she?"

He responded with the only answer he had, "Her name is Annabelle, she is a unicorn and her friends come in the house when I am out and clean for me." The look in her eyes prompted and immediate additional statement, "Let's go out back to the barn and I'll introduce you to her and her sisters."

After over 36 years of marriage she knew Lanty pretty well, or at least thought she did, so rather than get mad and upset she decided to give him the chance to show her whatever it was he was talking about. She was sure she didn't actually believe him but, if he had something to show her she was willing to try. Her response to him was a casual, "Ok let's go see your unicorns."

The short walk out the door and over to the fence took only a minute but to Lanty the long silent walk seemed like an eternity. Upon reaching the gate he stopped and called out, "Annabelle, please come here with your sisters and meet my wife." And then it hit him, what if they didn't talk to her or she couldn't hear them, what to do.

As the six fillies approached the gate followed by the two colts there was a tension in the air that to Lanty was unbearable. Then he heard, "Hello, Rosalie, we are happy to make your acquaintance." The look on the face of his wife told Lanty everything he needed to know, she had heard them!

She quietly looked at the eight small frail horses while trying to figure out if she had actually heard one of them talk to her in her head or if she had gone mad. However, since her husband had said that he was going to introduce them she sighed and quietly responded, "Hello, and to whom am I speaking?"

Annabelle stepped to the front and said, "I am Annabelle and these are my sisters Adira, Alannah, Alena, Amara, and Arabella and our two young friends Abiron and Acelin. We are all very glad to meet you and extremely happy that you can hear us, there are very few humans that can do that and to have two of you here together makes it much easier on all of us."

At this point all of the unicorns started to talk at the same time and the roar was deafening. Lanty saw the painful look on his wife's face and felt the pain in his own head. Raising his hand he blurted out, "Please, stop talking all at once. One at a time please, ladies. I think I'll go inside and let you get to know each other a little."

Rosalie turned to Lanty and said, "That would be nice." Then she turned to the unicorns and quietly said, "Now tell me all about yourselves and what your plans are."

About an hour later Rosalie returned to the house and walked up to Lanty, gave him a nice "I love you kiss" and said, "That was a good thing you did for them." She then went into the kitchen and started dinner.

Two years later there were six pale, scrawny, little foals running around Lanty's back pasture with six proud mares and two beaming stallions prancing around. Of course Lanty could not invite his friends and neighbors over as it would be hard to explain the long single spiral horn sticking out of the heads of the parents. Keeping them hidden from prying eyes had been hard, but the rewards of watching the unicorns grow and flourish had proven great. Lanty and his wife never felt better and whenever the unicorns needed something special, the means to get it seemed to appear out of nowhere, some people would call it magic, others would say it was just good luck. So if you ever hear a voice in your head telling you to do something good, just do it.