UNICORNS ON ALL STREET, FAIRIES IN THE COFFEE SHOP

Shawn Proctor’s work has appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Daily Science Fiction, Amazing Stories, Flash Fiction Online, Podcastle, and elsewhere. This is his second appearance in Galaxy’s Edge.

***

I may have been the only person to have seen her the night she did it. But everyone saw what came after.

The small woman climbed a rickety ladder, crowned by streetlight. In one hand, a bucket of ebony paint. In the other, a fat brush. Her curly hair rustled as she twisted the brush tip in her mouth, lips bringing the bristles to a point, then dipped it in the black paint and reached up to the sign. She sang to herself in a deep alto melody a song that I couldn’t place. A sparkle fell from her sweater as she worked.

It was the sparkle that made me stop. Made me put down my briefcase and stare at the woman beneath the Wall Street sign. “What are you doing?” I asked.

“Just stealing a letter,” she said without looking away. She kept painting until the “W” was gone from the sign. I looked again. I swore it was not erased, but had actually vanished.

***

The next morning I walked from the subway up to the street and glanced up at the street sign. It was still changed, still reading “All Street.” I laughed to myself and walked to where the statue of the charging bull faced the new statue of a brave girl. A half-man, half-bull circled both statues, leaning over each to get a better view. The creature covered his mouth with a hoof and whispered, “Breathtaking.”

A sextet of winged horses flew in a “V” overhead, and business men and women stopped in front of the New York Stock Exchange to stare. Traffic jammed. Swarms of fairies dashed in and out of coffee shops. A gray finger poked up through the sewer grate to tease a stray cat.

I walked into the lobby of my office building, and the security guard stopped me. “We’re closing for today, miss,” he said, sneaking glances at the gremlins loosening screws inside the revolving door. “Stop that!” he shouted at them, and rolled a magazine into swatter. The gremlins squealed and scampered away.

I walked back out to All Street and narrowly missed being run down by a galloping unicorn carrying a tower of donuts on its horn. “Watch it with that,” I said, mostly out of habit, ones baked in from living in the city for a decade. “I mean, excuse me.”

The unicorn swept its tail past my face, and I smelled cream and strawberries. A hot dog vendor next to me stopped slinging sauerkraut for a moment. “Wack-a-doo horse smells like cookie dough,” he said. “Warm cookie dough.”

The rest of the morning, I joined the rest of the people—tourists and New Yorkers of every kind, from office bigwigs to construction workers—who shot video and photos of nymphs and satyrs and cats made of shadow until their phones and cameras ran out of charge and memory. If I see that little woman again, I’ll be sure to thank her, I thought.

***

By the end of the second day, All Street had adapted to the fantasy creatures. They made signs advertising magical coffee and “Get your picture with the Jubjub bird! $5!” and my office and the stock market opened on time, just like any other day, despite the mess left by the roving Bonnacon. Tourists still came, but I had accounts to manage, stocks to move from some two-letter company to some three-letter company. Still, I couldn’t help but stare out the window at the spaghetti-long dragon that seemed to pass by every half hour, its leathery mustaches fluttering. Tomorrow, I’m going to talk to a dragon, I thought. Or a unicorn. But most definitely not a Bonnacon.

At the end of the night, I shuffled from the elevator and saw a familiar shape underneath the streetlight. It was small—bigger than the creatures we were calling kobolds and smaller than the Minotaur. I ran out to meet her. “There you are.”

“And there you are,” she said, her face dim under a straw hat.

“Everyone is talking about the creatures you sent here.”

“Oh, I didn’t send them. I only stole a letter,” she said. The woman nudged a bucket with a paint-splattered knee. “And I just gave it back.”

Sure enough, I looked around and saw no dragons or unicorns or any magical thing anywhere. Not even the gremlins. The street was empty then, and it seemed to me sadder, without wonders around every corner flitting and flying and scampering. But it was just the same old Wall Street. “If I had known it was temporary—”

“You would have savored it more.”

I nodded.

“They all say that,” she said, and tapped the paint can shut with a small rubber mallet. “Then they go back to rush-rush-rushing.”

I looked at the revolving door of my company, still marked with a large “Out of Order” sign. “I don’t want to,” I answered.

The woman tipped her head back, gray and brown hair bunching in her scarf.

“I mean it, not like those other people,” I said.

The woman set everything down, even her straw hat, and walked very close. She put a hand up to my ear and whispered, “So steal some letters of your own.”

I watched her continue walking, all the while singing that same tune I knew but didn’t quite know. I set the wide hat on my head, and picked up the bucket and brush. A sparkle fell from its tip to the dark street. I started down the escalator to the subway, every word, every sign an open invitation.

Copyright © 2019 by Shawn Proctor