At What Cost? by Noxomra

Honestly, he felt stupid. Would this even work? The silence of the forest all around him was almost unnerving, lacking even the usual buzzing of insects and chattering of birds. But this is what he had been told; go so deep into the heart of the sea of trees that even the animals would not dare go there, and find a circle of mushrooms or flowers to sit in. Bloodroot, ironically his daughter’s favorite, growing in a near perfect circle seemed to be the ideal so he sat down and waited. Each minute was agonizing, and soon he was certain he’d been there at least an hour, finally deciding it wasn’t going to work. He stood, dusting the dirt off his already stained overalls just out of habit, and turned to leave only to find himself faced with what he could only presume was the fey creature he’d come looking for.

“Hello?” He questioned softly, something one would probably not expect from a man of his size and build.

“Hello.” The few-inch-tall humanoid answered him, seeming to float in the air without the aid of wings or anything else that would normally allow flight. “So, what have you come to ask of Us?”

“It’s….my daughter. She’s sick and…” The man started, trying to figure out where exactly to start and how to go about asking as he had been told to by the old woman who gave him all the advice on how to handle the fey.

“You want Us to cure her?” It asked, bobbing where it floated and seeming to want to flit around excitedly.

“No.” He answered quickly, shaking his head. “Even if you could….Not that I doubt you could, mind, but even if that was what I wanted I know the price would be too steep. I would not trade my life for hers, or the life of any children she may bear for hers. She would never forgive me.” He took a deep breath, clearly upset and chocking back tears. “I have accepted her death. But before she goes, I wanted to give her the only thing she’s ever really wanted in this world. Ever since she was born her mother would read her tales of knights and dragons, princesses and….unicorns. And ever since she’s been old enough to ask, every year she asks for a unicorn for her birthday.” He tried to put the memory out of his head of the year he’d bought her a pure white horse and tried to pass it off as one, only to have her figure it out right away despite being so young. “Anyway, I was hoping maybe you or one of your kind might be able to ask one to come to her, even just for a few minutes. All I want is to give her the one thing she wants more than anything in this world before she passes.”

His last few words fell into silence, and the tiny fey before him did not answer right away. In fact it stilled, seeming to study him. Despite that he could not see its eyes due to the size and the slight glow around it he felt eyes on him, watching and judging.

“Are you a religious man? What do you think happens to the souls of humans when they die?” It finally asked, voice breaking the quiet and catching him off guard some.

“I ah….I can’t rightly say that I am. My mother was a religious sort and raised me with it, but I never found the peace with that belief that she did so when she passed I did not keep it up. As to the second question, I don’t know. Everyone seems to think something different, and there’s no proof to any of them. I am a rancher, I work every day with things I can see and feel and I don’t have much time for thinking of things I can’t. I can’t even say that I believe there is such a thing as a soul.” He hoped that was the right answer, the old woman had told him to answer all their questions honestly for the best chance that they would help him get what he wanted so he was doing just that.

“I see.” The tiny fey responded, finally nodding. “Then the price is something you do not believe in.” It chuckled, going back to bobbing slightly instead of the odd stillness. “If she is destined to die anyway and you do not wish to save her, We can indeed bring a unicorn to her. And when she passes We will be there to usher her soul to Our realm. Whatever awaits you on the other side, unless you make a deal with Us or offer it to Us you will go elsewhere, and you will not see her again.”

“As you said yourself, I do not believe. Maybe I will regret that, or maybe I will change my mind someday. But if I do, I know where to find you. So….I accept.” There was no hesitation in his voice, no sense that he had any regret for his actions in that moment.

“Good. Return to your daughter, the unicorn will come. Quickly now, before the forest grows dark.” The fey gestured to the sky where, indeed, the light of the day had begun to dim as the sun set on the far horizon.

“Thank you.” The rancher nodded, taking off swiftly the way he had come. As the last rays faded he crossed the fields to his house, squaring his shoulders and walking in the front door.

“You’re late.” A cross voice greeted him as a woman who could have been his female double leaned in a nearby doorway with her arms folded.

“I know, I’m sorry. How is she?” He asked, clearly worried.

“Sleeping. She wanted to stay up and wait for you, but she had a fit and I had to give her the medications.” The woman shook her head.

“It’s okay. Go on home to your family, and thank you for watching her while I handled that.” He’d told his sister it was something related to his daughter’s medical expenses and thankfully she’d bought that and agreed to watch her for as long as it would take him to deal with it.

“I’ll be back tomorrow to bring you groceries.” She let her expression soften, easing up and pulling her brother in for a hug.

“Thank you sister.” He sighed, letting his shoulders slump as he gave her a hug in return.

Once she was out the door he waited, watching her get into her car and making sure she had really driven off before he went upstairs to check on his daughter. It broke his heart, seeing her hooked up to all the machines in her room, but at least everything looked stable as she slept peacefully. She should have been in a hospital, he knew, but she hated being there. Every day she had to spend in the hospital she cried and begged him to take her home. After talking with doctors and some other professionals he knew that he legally could as long as he agreed to let doctors visit every so often to check up on her and making sure she was being taken care of. And the doctors thought that with new breakthroughs she might live some more months, but they could not promise a cure. More time with her was not worth it if she spent the whole time miserable; at least in her room she was happy, surrounded by all the unicorn-themed decorations she had accumulated over the years and the familiar energy of the place.

“I love you baby girl.” He murmured from the doorway, letting her sleep as he went off to his own room to sleep for a while.

He woke a few hours later to his phone blaring, a sign that the hospital had already been called because something had gone wrong with his daughter. He got up and rushed to her room, finding the machines all beeping as she had no pulse or heart rate, the little journal she kept by her bedstand open across her chest and the pen in one hand as if she’d been writing when everything went wrong. Knowing the ambulance was on its way and not wanting to lose such things when she was taken to the hospital he quickly set them aside and started to unhook the machines. When paramedics arrived they were able to just pick her up and go, making getting her to proper medical care faster in that sense.
Sadly, and as he expected, she did not make it. The conversation he’d had with the fey, and their deal, was lost in the chaos and grief of the following week. Dealing with her death, his family trying to console him and give whatever advice they thought was necessary, the funeral….It was all so much.

In fact, it wasn’t until almost a year after her death that he could go into her room. He remembered the fey and their deal but didn’t bother with it. If they had held up their end of things he had no way to know anyway, it was not as if his daughter had woken up at any point to tell him if she ever saw her unicorn. As he stood in the doorway, however, he remembered her journal and stared at it sitting on the nightstand. After what seemed like an eternity to gather up the courage he walked over and flipped the sparkly pages open to her last writings, scanning the words carefully.

‘Dear Diary,

I’ll have to tell dad in the morning, I saw a unicorn! She woke me up from my sleep and spoke to my mind, telling me that dad had asked her to come and see me. I don’t care what everyone else said, even auntie, they are real and I have proof because I saw one. She was too big to fit in my bed, though, so she laid down next to it and let me pet her mane and even touch her horn for a little bit. Then she had to go, but she said she’d see me again soon. I can’t wait!’

The words made him put a hand over his mouth, struggling not to cry. So the fey really had held up their end of things after all, and for that he was grateful. If the last few images the sick girl had were of the one thing she’d always wanted that was worth whatever price that was paid. But he had also thought long and hard about the second part of that conversation, and about how he would like to be reunited with his daughter in the afterlife if there really was such a thing. Despite his sister’s conviction he still wasn’t convinced, even after all of that. Still he took her journal and the pen that went with it, along with one of her favorite stuffed toys, and went back out into the woods to hopefully have the fey give her those things and make a deal of his own so that he could see her once more when he too finally passed.

At What Cost?

Noxomra

22 August 2018 at 22:03:12 MDT

Prompt - A rancher makes a deal to give his daughter wants she really wants a real live unicorn. But what were the terms of the deal?

Contest link - https://steemit.com/twentyfourhourshortstory/@mctiller/writers-win-5-steem-aug-7-twenty-four-hour-short-story-contest-a-rancher-makes-a-deal-to-give-his-daughter-wants-she-really

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