Alison crawled between the boards over the abandoned house’s broken window and picked her way across the bare, dusty floor. The winter air was cold and still and smelled like rotting plaster, but Alison caught the faintest hint of lilacs.
The kitchen door swung open at Alison’s touch and she stepped into spring sunshine. Snowdrops nodded on the countertop and daffodils swayed in the sink. Pink tulips danced in the shade of a vibrant lilac bush that sprouted out of the broken dishwasher. The fragrance of flowers was overwhelming.
Alison almost didn’t see the unicorn standing between the brilliant white apple blossoms and open refrigerator. Its coat and flowing mane glittered in the sunlight, and the spiral horn on its forehead shone. It was as delicate as spun glass.
It touched a rosebush with its horn, and the flowers withered.
Alison cried out in dismay, and the unicorn looked at her. Its eyes were like pools of midnight. Alison saw stars sparkling deep within them.
"Hello, child," the unicorn said. Its voice was old and sad, like Alison’s grandfather’s after her grandmother died.
"Why did you kill the roses?" Alison asked.
"I was hungry."
"But you didn’t eat them!"
The unicorn lowered its horn to a dandelion. The yellow flower crumbled at its touch, and puffy seeds floated in the breeze. "Unicorns live on innocence. There is so little of it left in the world that I am reduced to cannibalizing my own magic."
"You made these flowers?" Alison asked.
The unicorn snorted. "They grew because I am here."
Alison stared at the dead flowers. She blinked back tears. "If I give you my innocence, will you leave the rest of the flowers alone?"
The unicorn regarded her for a long moment. "I would do more than that. I would let you ride upon my back and show you the heavens. I would give you wisdom to replace your innocence. And after, I would rest my head in your lap while you braid flowers into my mane."
"It’s a deal," Alison said.
The unicorn moved like rippling silk. It knelt down so she could climb onto its back. It was as warm as sunshine beneath Alison’s cold fingers. As soon as she was settled, the unicorn leapt out the broken window and ran into the sky. Alison’s laughed from pure joy as the air whistled in her ears. She could see her whole town stretched out below her, then she could see the whole world.
It was beautiful.
"Look up," the unicorn said.
Alison looked up and saw the stars. Tears streamed down her cheeks.
They returned to the abandoned kitchen and Alison braided flowers into the unicorn’s mane, and she didn’t cry when it touched her with its horn. When it thanked her, its voice was younger, more like her father’s than her grandfather’s.
The next day, when Alison returned to the kitchen, the flowers were gone, except for a frozen dandelion and a withered rosebush.