An evil princess, the Unigoats she hates, and a girl determined to save them all. Dreaming of magic and unicorns, and getting along with her older brother, River explores the woods near her home, a lodge next to an old copper mine, deep in the Alaska Wilderness. She discovers a hidden valley where Unigoats roam free. The princess of people similar to Alaskan Natives, but who live in an ice palace rising from a glacier, wants the Unigoats for a fireworks display. River's brother wants to "mine" the valley and Unigoats by creating an amusement park. Braving trolls, a rebel uprising, and being thrown in a dungeon, River struggles to save the Unigoats, and her brother from greed.
by S. Tatalias
“River, come in River. Over,” Mom’s voice crackles on my walkie-talkie.
I grab it off the charger on my nightstand and click the talk button. “I’m here.”
With forest, moose, and bears surrounding my home––a lodge in the middle of nowhere––I always keep my walkie-talkie’s batteries full.
“Time for breakfast, girl,” my mom says. “Come down. Over.”
“But I’m not hungry.” I nibble a cookie I hid last night.
“No ‘buts’. Breakfast and then chores. This lodge doesn’t run itself,” says Mom. “And remember to say ‘over’. Over.”
“But…I mean it’s Saturday.”
“And what?” asks Mom.
“And it’s summer?”
“I meant you forgot to say ‘over.’ This conversation is over. Downstairs. Now. Over and out.”
I check the thermometer mounted outside my window: sixty-two degrees, a hot Alaskan day. I pull on jeans and a t-shirt. My legs feel happy without thermal underwear, like they want to run. But if I go downstairs, I have to do chores. So, instead, I take out my whittling and pocket knife.
I hold the knife in one hand and the birch stick I’ve been working in the other, careful to keep my fingers out of the way. I forgot to do that a few months ago. Now my pointer finger isn’t very pointy. It doesn’t hurt anymore, but it’s flat.
As I work the blade into the white wood, the pocket knife warms in my hand. But it won’t listen to me. I tell it to cut left, and it slips right. I press in, and it slides up. The spiraling groove I’ve been carving into the wood is a mess, like a dog’s been chewing on it. No unicorn would ever have a horn as ugly as this.
Something goes ka-thunk.
The bed shakes and that jiggles my hand. The knife slips, narrowly missing my middle finger.
“Cliff, knock it off,” I yell at my brother through the wall between our bedrooms. “It’s called weight lifting. Not weight dropping.”
“This one’s just for you, River,” he shouts.
Ka-thwunk! His dumbbell slams onto the floor as if he let go of it from extra high up just to irritate me. He’s nothing but mean since he turned thirteen.
My prize unicorn, Amaranth, jumps on her shelf. She’s pure white, body, mane, tail, and perfect spiraled horn.
Ka-chink! The weight’s clank against each other as Cliff slams his dumbbell down again. Amaranth shimmies to the edge. She teeters. I scramble and catch her as she falls. She’s safe.
I count to ten, picturing a different cookie with each number: one chocolate chip, two peanut butter, three sugar cookies. No good. It’s more like corn is popping in my head. Things as pretty as Amaranth have a hard time finding their way to our lodge. It’s over fifty bumpy miles on a gravel road from the nearest highway to our part of St Elias National Park.
I put Amaranth on my nightstand, in the center of the white cloth napkin I swiped from the dining room. All my furniture is made of logs, like everything in the lodge. It’s like I live I a tree house. I pound on the wood-paneled wall, and shout, “If Amaranth breaks, you’re going to pay.”
With forty-two rooms in our lodge, I don’t see why I have to have one next to my brother. Mom won’t let me move, not even in the winter when all the tourists are gone. She says we have to stick together in our family’s wing.
The floor shifts under my feet.
Everything’s swinging and vibrating back and forth. Even Cliff couldn’t cause this.
This is an earthquake!
On hands and knees, I crawl to the doorway, and turtle, covering my neck with my hands.
Our old lodge groans. I won’t cry; I’m an Alaskan girl. I’ve survived being charged by bear, chased by moose, and lost in a snowy whiteout. I’ve felt earthquakes before, too, though they’ve never lasted this long.
When the room stops shaking, I say, “Cliff, that was a big one.”
“Obviously,” says my brother, coming out of his room. He’s wearing a t-shirt with a guitar on it and fingerless weight lifting gloves. His hair is shiny with gel and spiked up.
I point and giggle. “You scared?”
“Hardly.” He leans against the wall, and fakes a yawn while flexing his muscles. “I’m bored.”
“More like boring. Want to go outside and play?”
“Play? That’s for babies,” he motions at me.
“You play the guitar all the time.”
“That’s different, dummy.”
“I’m not dumb,” I say, hands on hips.
“Then why’d you cut your finger off?”
“It wasn’t the whole finger.” I hold it as if the pain is fresh.
Beep-beep, goes the walkie-talkie on my hip. “River, are you okay? How about Cliff? Over,” asks Mom.
I squeeze the talk button, and shout into it, “I’m fine. But Cliff—”
“Is he hurt? Over,” she interrupts.
“He’s just being mean—”
“No time for that right now. Make sure the guests on your floor are fine and then come down. Over and out.”
She never takes my side. She can take care of the guests herself. Tears sting my eyes. I stomp into my room so Cliff won’t see.
My room’s all shaken up; books have fallen off the shelves and lay like a flock of hurt birds all over my bed, nightstand and floor. “I’ll help you,” I say, trying to forget my brother. Then I remember who I’d put on the nightstand: Amaranth.
As I move the books, I hold my breath.
It doesn’t help. My perfect, unicorn isn’t perfect anymore.
She’s broken in two, no, three pieces: front half, back half, and worst of all, the horn has snapped off her forehead. That’s where all unicorns store their magic.
I practically see it pouring out.