The Bukowski Agency - Bookweirdest - Excerpt

a novel by Paul Glennon


A MOVEMENT AT THE FAR END of the back garden caught his attention—a shadow of black behind the bright blue stands of delphiniums, an animal movement, large enough to startle him into a defensive crouch. Norman still imagined wolves stalking him sometimes. Being chased by wolves was something that stayed with you for a long time. But this was no wolf. Far too large to be a wolf, it stood above the tallest flowers in the flower bed, its head nibbling an apple from the tree. Chomping away methodically and loudly was the biggest horse Norman had ever seen. It was almost pure black—so black it glistened, its hide as glossy as the big grand piano Norman had used for exactly four very frustrating lessons last year.

He could only shake his head. A horse? His parents had let Dora get a horse? It was probably only on loan from her English friend, Penny, who lived up the valley, but a horse? Not even a pony, but a giant midnight-black stallion. It was the sort of thing a knight should ride, not his snotty little sister. If Dora got a horse, he decided to himself, he was going to ask for a PlayStation.

He hurried through the back garden towards the path. If he was right, Malcolm would be waiting for him at the footbridge. That was where they’d met before. It made sense that he would expect them to rendezvous there again.

* * * * * * *

Norman made his way slowly back to the house. His parents were probably looking for him anyway. He was probably in all sorts of trouble. And at the edge of the garden, he found another reason for them to ground him: the gate was wide open.

“Great,” he told himself. “Now the horse has probably escaped too.”

“The horse doesn’t need a child to open a gate for him.”

Norman turned towards the unfamiliar deep voice. There was no one there but the horse himself. He stood motionless in the shade of the apple tree, eyeing Norman with his giant but calm brown eyes.

“Who said that?” Norman asked. He turned around in a circle. Maybe some trick of echo had made it sound like the voice was coming from the horse’s direction. Nobody showed himself.

He gave the horse a long look.

“I hate to ask, just in case this makes me more crazy,” he said in a low voice, in the event anybody heard him talking to a horse, “but you didn’t just say something, did you?”

The horse took a step out from underneath the apple tree. Up close the animal looked even taller, more majestic. The big black stallion let out a deep sigh from its nostrils. It almost seemed to roll its eyes. It was then that Norman saw it. It was as plain as the nose on his own face. It looked absolutely natural, as if it had always been there. It was the colour of old bone, spiralled and veined with silver. It looked indescribably precious, as only a unicorn’s horn could.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

The huge black horse—or to call it what it was, the unicorn— placed a stern hoof on the ground and spoke once again in that deep, commanding voice. “I never kid.”

“Does my mom know there’s a unicorn in the backyard?”

The unicorn never had a chance to answer. Dora had appeared at the kitchen door.

“Are you bothering Raritan?” she asked proprietarily. “He doesn’t appreciate stupid questions, you know.”

She skipped down the back steps towards the mythical beast beside the flower beds.

Norman opened his mouth to speak, but a retort did not come. This was all too much to think about. Malcolm had disappeared; he could be anywhere. Now a unicorn was sitting in their back garden, and his sister seemed to think this was the most normal thing in the world.

“Do Mom and Dad know about this?” It was all he could think to ask at the moment.

Dora barely looked at Norman. She drew a couple of bright red apples from the inside of her riding jacket and offered them to the creature. “Here are some nice fresh apples. Much better than those nasty crabapples.”

Norman couldn’t say for sure, but the unicorn seemed to roll its big brown eyes again. He took the apples anyway.

“I can’t wait to tell them,” Dora continued. She stroked the unicorn’s muscled neck as it ate the apples from her hand. “They might call, if their cellphones work there.”

“Where’s there?” Norman asked. He had a queasy feeling in his stomach. He was certain that there was no cell coverage inside a book.

“Paris, of course. That honeymoon sort of thing.” She said it as if he should know all about it. “I don’t see why. They’ve been married for ages.” She shrugged, as if it was a mystery but not a very interesting one.

“And they left you here alone?” Norman wondered what he had missed while he was away at Kelmsworth and San Savino. Was he supposed to be babysitting? Mom and Dad sometimes left him in charge when they went to the store for half an hour, but was he really supposed to babysit while they went to Paris? Wouldn’t they at least have told him?

While he muddled through this, Dora kept talking—mostly to the unicorn, partly to herself. Norman was slipping back into his usual habit of ignoring her. She disappeared around the other side of the unicorn. The big creature bowed and huffed, lowering his horn to let her touch it.

“He said that Raritan would have to go back but he could come for visits maybe.”

“Who said?” Norman asked, suddenly and strongly suspicious. “Who said Raritan could come back?” Dora reappeared from the other side of the unicorn. “Uncle Kit, of course. Who else?”

Norman could actually feel his jaw drop. It seemed to him that the unicorn snickered as he watched.

“Uncle Kit?” he began slowly, in a low voice. “Uncle Kit is here at the Shrubberies?”

“Of course he’s here. He’s looking after us while Mom and Dad are in Paris. You’d know that if you didn’t sleep all day. Uncle Kit is awesome. You should see if he can bring a unicorn for you. Raritan might let you ride with us.”

As if on cue, the unicorn dipped his head again, bowing very low and kneeling on the ground, in a way that was not very natural. Norman watched in dumbstruck awe as his sister leapt onto the back of the kneeling beast and flung her arms around its neck as it rose again to four feet.

“Where to, Acting Princess Dora?” he asked in the deepest of unicorn voices.

“To the flower meadow!” Dora commanded gleefully.

Raritan exhaled once, then leapt into action. Norman had seen thoroughbreds and show jumpers during his time in Dora’s horse book, Fortune’s Foal, but nothing quite as magnificent as this. The big creature cleared the hedge without as much as two steps of run-up. He was off and onto the wood path before Norman could say anything more. Within moments, the only trace of them was the heavy thumps of hooves along the sandy path to the bridge.



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