Addi and the Unicorn
by James Rumpel
It was an accident. Dojo, the pink unicorn, had been entertaining Addi with a little dance when she knocked the half-empty glass of milk off the end table. Dojo was usually not that clumsy, but it can be difficult to maneuver around delicate objects with a five-foot-long tail. The glass fell to the pristine carpet, hitting it with a soft thump. The milk seeped into the white floor covering, its presence given away, not by a colored stain, but by the darkness associated with dampness.
Addi, who had been giggling joyously seconds before, now let out an audible gasp. The five-year-old girl looked around the room, her gaze pausing for a lengthy time on Dojo who sat next to the end table which had previously supported the glass.
“Now look at what you’ve done! Mommy is going to be pretty mad.” The girl shook her finger in a gesture that was surely one learned through observation. Addi stuck out her bottom lip and blew a quick puff of air straight up, causing the bangs of her short yellow hair to dance up and then down.
Recognizing this as an opportunity, Dojo replied, “I’m sorry, Addi Girl, but it’s so small in this house. I need room to run and dance. Let’s go outside and play. We can have so much fun.”
“Mommy says we are not allowed to go outside. Remember?”
“Yes, I know,” responded the unicorn. “But it would only be for a few minutes. I need to stretch my legs and wave my tail. Wouldn’t it be fun to see me running with my tail up in the air?” Dojo raised her tail skyward for emphasis.
The child considered the idea. Dojo started to have a flicker of hope until Addi’s mother entered the room. As usual, the woman was dressed impeccably, looking like the matriarch of a 1960’s television show. She wore bright red lipstick and sky-blue eye shadow. Her shoulder-length blonde hair was held in place by a wide, navy-blue ribbon. The headband matched nearly exactly the color of her dress, which was partly covered by an immaculate ivory-hued apron. The rich color of the dress and hair ribbon was in sharp contrast to the antiseptic white of the living-room walls. Those walls, along with the pale beige fabric of the furniture, gave the impression that the room was colorless.
“Oh, Addi, what have you done now?” asked the woman, an exasperated smile clinging to her lips.
“It wasn’t me, Mommy,” replied the young girl. “It was Dojo. Dojo was dancing for me, and backed into the table.” Addi glanced over at her friend for a second and then continued: “Dojo says this house is way too small for her. She wants to go outside and play.”
The mother’s expression took a serious turn. “Now, Addi, you know that ever since the bad men came, we cannot go outside. We have to stay inside until Father returns and tells us it is okay to go out.”
“I know, Mommy. Its Dojo who really wants to go outside—”
“And it was Dojo who tried to open the outside window yesterday, too, wasn’t it?” interrupted the child’s mother. Now the woman glanced in Dojo’s direction, though Dojo was well aware that she could not see anything but a toppled glass and partially soaked carpet. “Dojo, you know better than that. You and Addi cannot go outside. It is for your own safety.” She delivered this reprimand with such an authoritative, yet loving, tone that Dojo found herself tempted to nod in understanding. She resisted, however. Addi could see her, and she didn’t want to lose any of the progress that had already been made.
Turning her attention back to her daughter, Addi’s mother continued: “I know it is hard being locked inside all the time, but it is what we have to do. Now, I just put some cookies in the oven. Let’s go to your room and put you down for a nap. You can have cookies and milk when you wake up.” The woman lifted the young child. As Addi was carried from the room, her head resting on Mommy’s shoulder, she looked up at Dojo and shook her finger, ever so gently.
* * *
Doctor Samantha Jones removed the neural transmitter headset and looked over at the hospital bed. The tiny girl lay motionless, tubes and wires intertwined around her body, giving her the appearance of a fourth-grade circuitry project. The monitors all showed her to be physically healthy, yet she remained comatose. Addi had been in this state since the terrorist assault on her neighborhood. The attack had been neutralized very quickly. There had been only a few casualties. Unfortunately, the lovely child’s parents had been among those lost.
The technician turned from his monitor and addressed the doctor: “How did it go, Doctor Jones? Did you make any progress?”
The doctor answered, “A little. There is a tiny bit of her that wants to come out; that wants to leave that imaginary world. We will try again tomorrow. I refuse to allow her to remain trapped in a dream. Addi will come back to the real world.”
* * *
Standing in the doorway, after another unsuccessful attempt to lure Addi from her dream world, Doctor Jones’ memories drifted back to a time, five years earlier, when another young girl lay in a similar hospital bed. Her daughter, Susan, had been seven at the time of the accident.
Susan had been playing with her bunny in the yard. Somehow, for some unknown reason, the rabbit had decided to bolt; running out onto the street. Susan had tried to save her pet, following it onto the road. The driver never had a chance to stop.
For a week, Susan had been kept on life support. Alive by definition but in reality, not. Samantha knew Susan’s death was why she needed, so desperately, to rescue Addi. Susan motivated her to do everything within her power to save her young patient. Addi would be saved and Susan would be the reason.
A tear was slowly gliding down Samantha’s cheek. She let it fall, undisturbed. The doctor addressed the comatose child, “Goodnight, Addi Girl. I will see you again tomorrow.” She turned and left the girl’s room, returning to her own, all too empty, home.
* * *
As she approached the neural treatment ward, Doctor Jones was not surprised, and not overjoyed to find the Chief of Staff, Doctor Michael Lowell waiting for her. The short, twitchy man had an agenda: this was no chance meeting.
“Samantha, I need to talk to you about your treatment of Addyson Welke. I can’t let you continue.”
“You have to. I am getting closer every day. I think I can save her.” She stared, sincerely, into his eyes, marveling at how large they appeared; magnified by the thick-lensed spectacles he always sported.
“The procedure is still experimental. Using it as often as you have could be dangerous to both you and the child. You are intertwining your thoughts with those of a comatose patient. We can’t be certain what effects the treatment is having on either of you. I was okay with you using it once or twice, but it has been every day for nearly two weeks.”
Doctor Jones took a deep breath. “I only need a few more days. I know I can get her to come back.”
Now it was the Chief of Staff’s turn to sigh. “I understand. I know you lost a child and will do everything you can to save this young girl. Believe me, I really do empathize. However, it’s becoming far too dangerous. I can’t let you keep taking this risk. I am officially ordering you to cease the treatment.”
Samantha thought of all the different reactions she could have to Doctor Lowell’s proclamation. She considered crying. She considered anger. In the end, she decided to be as professional as her emotions would allow.
“Sir, I humbly request that you permit me one final attempt,” she stated, blinking furiously in an attempt to prevent the tears which were seeking to erupt from achieving their goal. “Preparations for today’s treatment have already been made. I ask for just one more day.”
“Very well, Samantha. You can try one more time; only one. I pray you are successful.”
* * *
Addi opened her eyes and smiled. As much as she hated to admit it, she enjoyed her daily naps.
“Hello there, sleepyhead,” greeted the pink unicorn sitting at the side of her bed. “Are you ready to get out of bed?”
“Hi, Dojo. What do you want to do?”
Dojo had decided to incorporate a new tact today. She had tried many different means of convincing the child to leave the self-imposed prison that was her house. All had failed because of Addi’s respect and love for her mother. She simply could not bring herself to go against her mother’s will. Maybe, Dojo could take advantage of Addi’s loving and caring personality.
“Addi, I have something sad to tell you. I am very sick.”
Surprisingly the disclosure brought a smile to the child’s face. “Oh, then you need a doctor.” She jumped from her bed and proceeded to her toy chest which contained a plastic doctor’s bag, complete with faux thermometer and stethoscope.
“No, Addi Girl, I am not playing. I am being for real. Unicorns need to eat a special kind of grass in order to not die. I’ve been with you in the house for so long that I have not eaten the magic grass in a very long time.”
Addi’s smile turned to an expression of concern. “Oh, Dojo, you should go get some of that grass right now.”
“I cannot, I am too weak.” The unicorn bowed its head and slumped its front shoulders. “I need you to go and get me some of the grass.”
“Where is the grass?”
“I know there is a patch in your front yard. It grows all around your mailbox.”
“But I can’t go outside; Mommy won’t let me.”
“You are going to have to sneak out, Addi.” The unicorn cleared its throat with a muffled cough. “You must hurry, I don’t have much time.”
Addi wrapper her arms around Dojo’s neck. “I love you, Dojo. I will do it.”
“You are a wonderful friend and a brave, brave girl.”
Dojo enjoyed the hug. It was amazing how Addi, oftentimes, reminded her of her own daughter. She too had been a sweet, affectionate child. Addi had to be saved.
* * *
Addi’s mother, still clad in the same dress and apron, was sitting on the living room sofa. She was watching a news report about the terrorist strike. It was the same report she watched every day. Her back was to the stairway that Addi would need to descend to reach the back door. Dojo knew the mother would not allow Addi to leave. The mother was the manifestation of the part of the little girl’s psyche that wanted her to remain in the safety of this make-believe world.
Dojo addressed Addi in hushed tones at the top of the stairs.
“Remember to be very quiet. We don’t want your mother to see you. It’s like a game. All you need to do is go out the back door and get me some grass. Do you remember the four numbers?”
“One, five, seven, one.” Addi recited the security code that would allow her to unlock the door. Dojo had spent hours investigating the home to find that information. She could only hope it was correct.
“You are my brave hero. I know you can do this for me.”
“I will save you, Dojo.”
After one more quick hug, Addi proceeded to begin the slow and meticulous journey down the stairs. With exaggerated caution, she tiptoed step by step. A quarter of the way from the bottom, she glanced back at her unicorn friend, flashing her a smile as if to say, “I got this.”
It might have been the backward glance or maybe it was fate, but, during the long slow-motion stride to the next step, Addi lost her balance. She teetered for a split second before having to quickly bring down her foot to keep from falling. The noise made by the stocking-covered foot hitting the wooden stair was minimal, but it was enough to be noticed by Addi’s mother.
The woman started to turn to investigate the sound.
DING DING DING
The oven timer erupted in a chorus of chimes. The cookies were done. Forgetting about the subtle noise behind her, Addi’s mother rose from the couch and headed to the kitchen to remove her treats.
Both Addi and Dojo breathed a silent sigh of relief. Dojo motioned for Addi to continue her journey.
Another obstacle now loomed precariously over the mission. From the kitchen, Addi’s mother had a clear view of the back door. There was no way she would not observe her child attempting to enter the security code and leave.
As Addi reached the bottom of the stairway and turned left to head to the back foyer, Dojo sprang into action. Leaping down the stairs, the unicorn ran into the living room and crashed, headfirst into an end table. The collision caused a glass figurine of a galloping horse to topple, falling to the carpet and shattering. The noise was undeniable.
Addi’s mother burst into the living room to see what had happened. She passed by Dojo but could not see her; Dojo was sprinting to the back door to aid Addi.
“You can do it. Keep going!” Called Dojo with a voice that only Addi could perceive.
The girl, using excruciating care, typed the four numbers into the security pad. She proceeded to open the door, revealing a backyard drenched in sunshine. She raised her foot, preparing to take the fateful step out of the house.
“Addi, you come here this instant!” her mother called from the living room.
Addi paused, looking back at the direction of her mother’s voice. She looked at Dojo then, again, at the open expanse beyond the door.
* * *
Doctor Samantha Jones removed the neural transmitter headset, setting it back on the table. In the nearby hospital bed, Addyson Welke remained, as she always did, in a coma. The blinking lights and monitors were the only movement. Addi lay motionless.
The technician sat with his back to the doctor, not acknowledging her presence. He simply stared at the screen before him.
A tear formed in the corner of Samantha’s eye. She had failed again. The doctor pushed back the tear. She would not give up. She would try again tomorrow.
* * *
Michael Lowell, the hospital Chief of Staff, stared at the motionless body of Samantha Jones. His heart was heavy with guilt. He could have, should have, ordered her to stop using the neural transmitter to venture into Addison Welke’s psyche. Had he not allowed her to talk him into allowing one more treatment, she would not be in her current comatose state.
Doctor Lowell had tried to balance his guilt and sadness over the state of one of his best, most empathetic, staff members with the fact that the young girl had been saved. Addi had awakened from her coma at the very moment Samantha had entered hers. Now the doctor was trapped in a dream world, and Michael Lowell felt responsible.
He picked up the neural transmitter helmet and prepared to place it on his head. He would only make one attempt to enter Doctor Jones’ mind. He could not risk more than this single venture. An inescapable reminder of the consequence of too many attempts lay before him.
The neural transmitter would allow him to be part of Doctor Jones’ dreams. The technology would allow him to find a back door into her current reality. That backdoor involved entering through the portion of the patient’s brain that controlled and dealt with imagination.
He placed the helmet on his head and signaled the technician that he was ready for his attempt. For her sake, he had to succeed.
* * *
A thumping sound drew Samantha Jones’ attention. She turned and was shocked to see that standing behind her, in the lab doorway, was a large blue-furred rabbit with incredibly large eyes.
“Hi, Doctor Jones. I’m Milo. We should talk. Why don’t you come with me and get a cup of coffee? Let’s get out of this lab.”
Copyright © 2020 by James Rumpel