There were stars somewhere, she knew. Tiny, brilliant pinpricks of light had been there the night before last, and they couldn't have disappeared forever. Yet, hidden by the stormclouds as they were, Katiaryn Hunter could almost believe that they would never return to their usual positions in the night sky.
Her first night at her sister's cabin had been crisp and clear, if a bit chilly, much different than this night. The weatherman on the radio had warned of a snowstorm of almost blizzard-like proportions, but so far she hadn't seen anything that would signal a snowstorm except for the clouds, and those had been there the entire day. Since she hadn't seen a single flake yet and felt she wasn't likely to, she mentally added another piece of evidence to her theory; weathermen were always wrong. Just this once, though, she'd like to see a weatherman prove her theory wrong. It was, after all, her last night in her sister's cabin and she still hadn't been inspired.
Katiaryn smiled at the thought of her sister. Kira Hunter-Orrin was twenty-eight, two years Katiaryn's younger, yet sometimes it seemed that it was reverse. For anyone listening to the phone conversation they had on Wednesday, for instance, would have thought that Kira was the elder.
"How've you been doing, Ryn?" Kira had asked, using Katiaryn's old nickname.
Katiaryn smiled at her sister's concern. "I've been doing okay. I've been better, but.... I'm doing okay."
"You sound tired. Life that stressful nowadays, eh?"
"That isn't even the half of it. I've got bills I won't be able to pay back until next year, not to mention that the gallery owner is getting on my case about the painting that's due on Monday. I don't have any idea what to paint, much less how to go about getting inspired. It seems like my brilliant muse has finally left me. On top of it all, my apartment building is being sprayed for bugs over the weekend and I don't have anywhere to stay while they do it. I'd say that qualifies as a stressful life."
There was a long pause before Kira began to talk again. "You know normally I'd offer you to stay with us, but the guest bedroom's taken this weekend. My mother-in-law is in town, and it's our turn to put up with her, since Jimmy's brother did it last time. Though there might be something I can do to help. Jimmy and I do have that hunting cabin upstate, though I don't know how I let him talk me into letting him buy it, much less pay for half of it. You could use it if you wanted, to get away from it all. Maybe it'll even provide you with inspiration."
That had been it. Katiaryn had jumped at the offer of a place to stay, especially if it was situated in the beautiful Adirondack mountains. Surely the Adirondacks in the dead of winter could offer her some much needed inspiration. She had snatched the offered keys from Kira's hand, then hopped in her car and drove four hours on icy mountain roads to reach the cabin, passing horse farm after rock farm after horse farm, the radio as her only companion.
Only to find her surroundings completely uninspiring when she arrived. The grass was dead, as were the trees, stripped of bark and leaves. It wouldn't have been that terrible if the trees had at least been a little gnarled and interesting, but no, they were all so depressingly straight and uninteresting. So when the weatherman on the radio had said there was a snowstorm coming, she thought it might help the place look a little more alive and thus give her inspiration. But so far, there was not a snowflake in the sky. And her deadline was now less than 24 hours away.
Sighing, she turned from the window she had been staring out of and looked around the cabin for something to do. There was nothing, just as there was nothing to do the first hundred times she had looked for something to do. The cabin was little more than a 15x15 foot floor with walls and a thatched roof. There was a little table barely able to support her unread novel, complete with two mismatching chairs, a counter with an old hot plate and a couple of scorched pots and pans placed intermittedly here and there, and a mouldy old couch that pulled out to double as a mouldy old bed. There was no bathroom, only a tiny outhouse placed about ten feet from the back of the cabin, and there was certainly nothing very inspiring.
Katiaryn closed her eyes and imagined that she was back in her old art studio, with her old art teacher. The aging French woman would speak softly to her, guiding her paintbrush but never the ideas behind the colours. For an instance, Katiaryn could believe she was twelve again, proudly beaming over her first oil painting, but the moment was broken by the caw of a crow.
She glanced angrily out the window, as if to find the bird that had broken into her memories with its offending sounds and kill it with only a look. It took her only a few minutes to search the bleak barrenness and locate the crow, perched high on a dead branch of a hawthorne. Its golden eyes seemed to grin at her, and, with one last caw, it spread its dark wings and flew into the cloudy night sky.
Katiaryn followed it with narrowed eyes until it was no longer visible. Her brain didn't register that it had left, though- it could barely remember it had been there. Something else had attracted her attention.
It was a pure white snowflake, falling from a dark cloud down to the earth, and after it came more, much more. They fell slowly in the air, a pale, frosty army bringing cold life back to the world. She watched the snow fall from the one window the cabin had until outside was almost nothing but snow. Just barely, she could see the dark shapes of the dead trees under the white barrage of precip, but it didn't matter. It only added an eerie contrast to the blizzard-like scene outside.
Just as Katiaryn realised that this meant her theory was wrong and she'd have to get a new one, she saw it. A movement, barely perceptible through the white wind because its own colour was white, but there. And through all this whiteness, she could see a single purple dot, like an eye, and then a head, attached to a neck, connected to a body with long, pale limbs. It appeared to be a horse, and she assumed that it must have escaped from a nearby horse farm.
She found herself outside minutes later, staring through the blinding whiteness at the creature standing perfectly still before her. Her own blue eyes met with its violet ones and a moment of understanding seemed to pass between them. Then the horse snorted and stamped its foot impatiently, seemingly to tell her to hurry up. She moved forward a few steps, cautiously, so as not to disturb its frame of mind, and it snorted at her again, turning this time and galloping off the way it came back.
Perhaps it was foolish to follow it into strange woods, but Katiaryn rationalized it by thinking that if she could catch it, she could return it to whatever farm it must have escaped from. Yes, that would be what she would say should anyone ask. She knew in her heart that the real reason she was following was because the horse had seemed to want her to follow.
Come, sister, the last snort seemed to say. I have an interesting place to show you.
So Katiaryn followed, if only for the adventure. She wound her way through the dead trees and already foot high drafts of snow. Her long brown hair blew with the ferocity of the storm, but there was nothing to do about it. In her haste to catch the horse, she had only had time to slip her feet into boots and her arms into her jacket. If she had taken the time to look for a hair tie, she might not have seen the horse go.
After ten minutes of arduous walking, she finally caught up with the horse at a clearing. Except now, it didn't look like a horse. Katiaryn didn't know much about horses, but she knew enough to know that horses didn't have long, white horns poking out of their foreheads.
"You're a unicorn," Katiaryn said softly, recognition and disbelief dawning on her at the same time.
Does that surprise you, sister? the unicorn snorted.
Katiaryn's eyebrow shot up. Was the unicorn communicating with her?
You are the one-without-a-muse. I am the one-who-helps. The unicorn tossed its- no, her, the voice inside her head was definitely female- head and pointed to the clearing with her horn. This is the Clearing-Where-Time-Stops. The white-powder will not fall here, but it will continue to fall everywhere else.
Katiaryn looked inside the clearing, but still saw only snow falling inside. She glanced back at the unicorn.
You need to step inside the Clearing-Where-Time-Stops, otherwise you will perceive what every other mortal perceives.
Hesitantly, Katiaryn stepped inside. Immediately, everything around her swirled and blended and bended into things it hadn't been before. She had to close her eyes before she grew dizzy and fell. When she opened them, everything around her had changed. The floor of the clearing was green and full of life, and inside it many different animals played in the wild grass. Around the clearing were clear walls, and Katiaryn could see that outside, the snow was still falling.
The one-who-helps stepped in and made a sound that Katiaryn could neither identify nor replicate. Other white shadows stepped from the boundaries of the clearing. She could see that not all the myths about them were true; they seemed to come in all shapes and sizes. One was as orangey-red as a fire, the next was blue as twilight sky. But no matter what colour they were, they shared two things in common. They all had slender, white horns and purple eyes.
Glancing around, Katiaryn's eyes fell upon two of the same gray colour- a mother and her child, Katiaryn guessed. The colt (if that was what one could call an immature unicorn), upon coming aware that it was being watched by this being new to the clearing, ran behind its mother on long and unsteady legs. The mother snorted at it and nudged it with her nose, as if telling it to be polite and greet the guest. Hesitantly, the colt walked out from behind its mother and nudged Katiaryn's hand, as if apologizing for its rude behavior. She smiled and rubbed its nose in return, telling it that its behavior was perfectly natural.
Please forgive the one-who-does-not-know-better. He didn't mean to be rude, and he would apologize for himself, but he is too young to mind-speak, the mother apologized.
Only 472 years old. Katiaryn was only half surprised at the response. Her only reply was a noise, made half with the awe of admiration and half with a hmph of cynicism.
Come, one-without-a-muse. It was the white unicorn, the one-who-helps. You cannot stay much longer in the Clearing-Where-Time-Stops. Already in your world the rising-of-the-burning-sphere approaches. If you miss that, you will be lost in the World-Without-Time for quite some time.
"Is that where the Clearing-Where-Time-Stops is?"
Yes, now come. Time is fleeting.
Tempus fugit, thought Katiaryn as she began to follow the one-who-helps back through the clear walls and into the white fury of an ongoing storm. Before she stepped through, she took a last look around at the clearing, and her gaze rested for a few seconds on the mother and child. The mother was looking down; her colt was looking up; both were gazing into violet abysses of love, standing together on emerald pastures while crystalline snowflakes fell around them. The scene was intensely surreal, and a bit of regret tugged at her heart when the one-who-helps gestured impatiently that it was time to leave.
With a nod of mixed emotions, Katiaryn stepped through and again underwent the sensations that came with stepping through the barriers of time. When she found herself to be back in the snow, she looked for the one-who-helps, but she was no where in sight. Neither was the Clearing-Where-Time-Stops. A sharp stab of loss shot through her, and for a moment she had to remind herself to breath. They weren't gone, she told herself. They were simply in another place which she couldn't perceive.
Yet she couldn't quite convince herself rid of the feeling that she'd never see another creature as beautiful as the unicorns as she slowly traced her way back to the little cabin. She found herself wishing that she had brought along a camera, for although now her memory of the experience was clear, it was becoming duller and rougher around the edges with every passing second. Suddenly inspiration struck, and Katiaryn knew her muse had come back to her.
When she reached the cabin, she began unpacking her paint supplies (which she almost hadn't packed at all) and began to paint. As the first rays of sun began to creep into the cabin, she finished the last purple stroke and stepped back to admire her painting.
Months or even years later, when Katiaryn looked at the painting from behind velvet ropes of art galleries or museums, she would wonder what had inspired her to create it, since it was so different from her normal paintings. At times like these, she felt the oddest sensations of... loss? regret? grief? It was impossible to tell, but the painting and its forgotten inspiration spooked her to such a degree that she avoided looking at it whenever possible. On her last visit, she determined that it was the depths of the purple in the eyes that reminded her she had forgotten something, something very important. She stared at the painting for a few moments, then turned away from it, determined never to look at the painting again. Whatever she had forgotten, she must have forgotten it for a reason. It disturbed her.
The violet abysses seemed to follow her exit, those purple eyes of a mother unicorn and her child, frozen in paint and time but forgotten by the captor of their memories.