The Unicorn

In 1956 JR and George are ten years old and the best of friends; their ‘playground’ is Stapleford woods. It’s a bright sunny day, when, near an ancient oak, they discover some spots of a silver liquid shimmering and sparkling on the grass.
Is it paint? George asks.
Dunno. There’s no tin. Bad people dump tins of paint. 
What’s them? JR asks, pointing at tiny silver footprints amongst the silver spots.
George takes a closer look. Too small for a deer. Is it fairies? 
Fairies? JR asks. You don’t believe in fairies, do you?
Nar, that’s a girlie thing, but it’s a mystery. We could pretend we’re detectives and follow the trail of spots.
We don’t have to pretend, cos they’re real, JR says.
They follow the trail. 
You excited? JR asks.
Yeah. Wonder what we’ll find.
If it was a hurt animal, its blood it should be red not silver, JR observes.
If it’s bleeding, it could need help.
Do magical creatures bleed? What did Mr Southall say?
About what? George asks.
The Royal coat of arms has got a unicorn on it. He said it was mythical.
Teacher said they was as rare as hens’ teeth, George says. One of them girls said a unicorn has silver blood.
The trail leads them to a leafy glade. JR stares at the grass. Blood’s stopped, he announces. You search over in the bushes and I’ll go down to see if it’s at the bottom of the field.
George sets off as JR disappears into thick undergrowth. After a few minutes, he stops dead in his tracks. As he stares at an open tin of silver paint, he hears George shouting, Any luck?
JR hesitates. No, nothing here, he says and carefully buries the tin in undergrowth.
Back in the glade, George looks downhearted. 
Cheer up; it’s been an adventure, JR says. It’ll be shy, or hiding. We gotta promise each other to keep our Unicorn secret; we don’t want him frightened off. 
George uses his penknife he makes a tiny cut in their index fingers. 
They rub their bloodied fingers together and swear silence.

Many years later they return to the village to celebrate their seventieth birthdays and agree that they’ll return to the glade for the last time.

Did you ever think the Unicorn was here? JR asks as they stand in the leafy glade.
Did you? 
Not really. But I wanted to, JR says, wishing he could take back his lie.
The two men turn. In a bright pool of sunlight a unicorn whinnies and nods his horn. Get a photo, quick, JR says. 
Using his phone camera George videos the Unicorn.
Let’s see, JR asks.
George presses play. Both men look down at the screen.
George shouts in triumph, We got him! We got evidence.
They look up; the Unicorn has gone.
Looking back at the screen they watch the images of the Unicorn disappear.

I need to tell you something, George, JR sighs.

I hope you enjoyed this story. Please feel free to pass it on to others who may be interested. You can read my previous 500 word stories on my website under ‘Writing’.>>>More

© Phil Cosker 2023
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.


George is a gamekeeper. His daily routine begins after an early breakfast with his inspection of the estate’s woodland. As ever, his old, increasingly frail, Border collie, Sam, accompanies him.

In a clearing near the main road, Sam barks as he hears a mewling sound from within nearby dense undergrowth. George holds up a finger and Sam is silent. They push their way past hawthorn and ash saplings. Good God, George gasps. A fallow deer, a doe, stands over the carcass of a stag. The doe, terrified, runs off. George studies the badly butchered body of the stag. Poachers, he says, buggers are at it again; no jobs, no money, no food on the table and hungry kids; It’s not right but nor is this. Flies swarm as maggots feast. Look at the poor beast; nothing deserves being cut up like that – no respect. Sam, stay. Keep strangers away.

It’s midday by the time George has dug a grave big enough for the stag’s body. He’s bloodied and tired by the time he’s buried the stag deep enough to prevent predators. As he rests on his spade Sam quietly growls. Turning, George sees the doe standing watching him. Hello, George says, I won’t harm you. The doe turns and disappears into the wood. She’s mourning, George says, adding, Don’t be daft, man, deer aren’t human.

The following night George is awakened by a haunting persistent high-pitched cry. He dresses and with Sam at his side sets off for the stag’s grave. Reaching it, they find the doe wailing like a banshee. George and Sam stand silently until the doe sees them. She doesn’t run for cover but continues to keen. She’s mourning, George says, I was right; I’ve never seen or heard the like of it.

On the following night George and Sam join the doe at the grave. On the way back to the cottage Sam stumbles and is unable to walk any further. George carries his dog slung across his shoulders. Back in the keeper’s cottage he lays Sam in front of the wood-burning stove and feeds Sam bread dipped in whisky – a remedy in which he has no faith; nevertheless Sam sleeps.

In the early morning light George sits on the floor by Sam stroking him, telling the dog that he’ll be okay, knowing full well that his dog is near death. He sits with him until the end.

It’s early evening when George gently lowers Sam into the grave. He looks up to see the doe standing just outside the garden fence. George smiles and says thanks. By the time George has completed the burial, he wants to say a prayer but the only words that come to him are, “Though lovers be lost, love shall not; and death shall have no dominion.” That night George visits the stag’s grave and stands with the doe. When George leaves for the cottage the doe comes with him. From then on deer and man are inseparable.

I hope you enjoyed this story. Please feel free to pass it on to others who may be interested. You can read my previous 500 word stories on my website under ‘Writing’.>>>More

© Phil Cosker 2022
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.

The Wood

The only exhibit in the gallery is a single one-metre square monochrome photograph of an ancient broad-leaved wood. Hollis is not alone. Morning, he says to an elderly woman standing in the far corner of the gallery. He wants to laugh at the way she’s dressed. Just like a bloody useless old hippy, he thinks. All flares, beads and flowers. She ignores him. Bloody rude, he thinks, Just as well she can’t hear what I’m thinking. 

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December 1986

It’s a cold clear afternoon in Keldy Forest where Ben is lighting a wood-burning stove in an A-frame chalet he’s hired for a long weekend away with his newly pregnant wife, Frankie. Ben wants the chalet to be toasty when he returns from Malton railway station with her. Wife and husband are elated about the coming birth of their first child. Suddenly he’s overcome with emotion; choking back his tears, he makes a vow: Frankie, whatever comes to pass I will always love you. He laughs at himself for being so maudlin. 

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One Night

It’s All Hallows’ Eve. The moon is new and the stars are bright on a cold clear night. Trick and Treaters are long asleep in bed. For a bet, Lucien, slightly drunk, is spending the night alone at the end of the pier. He’s not superstitious, but the stories of the haunted pier on this night of nights have left him on edge. He drinks from a whisky flask.

The tide is out and a vast expanse of glistening mud stretches beyond the end of the Victorian pier to the mouth of the estuary. For the first time, Lucien sees that the mud flats are not flat but full of ridges, hummocks and rills running with streaming water into gullies deep in the mud. He’s astounded that the moonlight is so bright and the mud is beautiful.

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The Wheelchair

David, in his early seventies, is finally preparing his mother’s home for sale. It’s a great sadness to him that he never managed to persuade her to move to a smaller property rather than her large Victorian house. She’d been alone in it for fifty years since his father’s death until her own recent death in her nineties. Her loss still feels raw. No matter how hard David tried, she refused to move; there was always a good reason or an excuse that allowed a further postponement. David finds it ironic that he’s now in the same situation; his children are pressing him and their mother to downsize. He wonders if they know that the familiar makes life more comfortable. 

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A Childhood

It’s 2022 and Robbie, aged fifteen, is living with his mother, Paula, in a semi-derelict 1960s council house on a vast estate of public housing to the north of the city. Paula describes living there as ‘like being in the Wild West’ where security guards have to protect bus drivers. One bus shelter carries a homemade poster of a policewoman with a noose round her neck.
It’s early morning. Robbie and Paula sit on white plastic garden chairs in the freezing kitchen, their hands warmed by steaming mugs of black tea. 
You’ll get warm when you get to school, Paula says.

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Billy No Mates

Bill is dying of cancer. He’s been through the mill of treatment and despite the best efforts of his GP he won’t enter the hospice and is determined to die in his own bed. He has two carers, one part-time for the day and a full-time night carer, Stefan, a young Russian. Bill likes Stefan, to whom he tells tall stories to fight off his fear of the night and the arrival of the grim reaper. 

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The Bothy

Andrew Slessor braces himself against the driving wind and snow and presses on in search of shelter. The blizzard roars. His eyelashes freeze. His lungs hurt. He fears he’ll die unless he finds shelter soon. His memory of the OS map is vivid. He reckons he’s near the ruined Crofters’ village where the tragedy unfolded. He stumbles and trips over a low wall of fallen stones. Struggling to his feet in the blizzard, he glimpses the small building that’s his final destination. On arrival, all is as he expected: the door is locked and letters in red paint announce, DANGER KEEP OUT! He takes a key hanging from a nail beside the door. Ignoring the warning, he enters and shuts the door behind him; it immediately blows open in the storm. He forces the door shut against the wind and locks it tight.

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The Headstone

For over fifty years Axel Strummer’s granite headstone remained blank – not even his name was inscribed. This was not an oversight but a result of Axel’s traumatic funeral and internment. For Axel’s son, Proctor, it could have been yesterday when his love for his father was tested to the limit.

A small congregation is assembled for the funeral service in St Mary’s church. Proctor and Rosanna, Axel’s widow, are sitting on chairs near the catafalque on which Axel’s coffin rests. A younger woman sits down at the end of their row.

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