A Singing Sky

Inspired by Madeleine L’Engle


Charles Wallace was as surprised as anyone when a great, shining, white horse knocked at the door just as the evening bell rang to send the children to their beds. The headmaster stood up immediately, an all-too-familiar look of irritation on his face. Every child in the hall knew that the sign on the door proclaimed that all visitors were banned after six o’clock, and it was nearing eight. All the children were in the hall from dinner until 7:45, when they were sent to the dormitories, with fifteen minutes to be in bed.

“Smithson! See who’s at the door and why he cannot read the sign!” Mr. Stenten, the headmaster of St. Brendan’s School and Home for Orphaned Children, snapped at unfortunate Michael Smithson, who sat next to Charles on the long, wooden benches nearest the door.

“Yes, sir!” Smithson jumped up.

Everyone knew to obey Mr. Stenton. He ran to the door before standing on his tiptoes to look through the peephole. He walked back to his seat and said, his face very pale, “The visitor knocked because he couldn’t read, sir.”

“Why ever not, Smithson?”

“Because he is a horse, sir.”

“A horse, Smithson? A horse?”

“Yes, sir. A white horse, sir. With a horn.”

“A white horse with a horn? An antlered horse, Smithson?”

“No, sir. A horn, sir. A long, spiraling horn,” Smithson hesitated.

“Yes, Smithson?”

“A horn like a unicorn’s, sir. A huge, white horse with a unicorn horn. Which, I suppose, sir, makes him a unicorn.”

“A unicorn, Smithson? Are you a little girl? Ten-year-old boys, Smithson, have no business believing in foolish fairy tales. I will have to see you in my office, boy, at nine o’clock.”

“Yes, sir, but what about the u-horse, sir?” Michael stuttered.

Nothing good came of an invitation to the headmaster’s office.

“I believe, Smithson, that the horse is a figment of your imagination. I do not think there is any horse outside, antlered or not. Resume your seat, Smithson.”

Just as Michael returned to the bench, another knock — a louder knock — came at the door.

“Oh, very well then!”

Mr. Stenton strode to the door and threw it open. Gleaming on the front step, magnificent and frightening together, stood the great horse. But it was not possibly a horse. No horse’s flank could glow so perfectly. No hooves could stand so tall and deliberate. No mane and tail would swish like pure silver threads. And there was no way that such a horn could possibly grow, such a long, beautiful horn.


Mr. Stenton’s break from his usual apathetic state was interrupted as the unicorn (for surely there was no other creature it could be, fairy tale foolery aside) stepped across the threshold and toward Michael. As the unicorn made his way toward him, Michael squeaked and toppled over sideways, off the bench.

Never pausing, the unicorn continued, advanced past Michael, sparing him not a glance, and stood in front of Charles. Speechless with both awe and fear and a strange soaring sensation, Charles simply stared back into its eyes, which glimmered like black pearls set in the silvery fur. The unicorn lowered its sharp horn, and the hall let out a collective gasp. But the creature simply nudged Charles’s knee with its nose in a clear gesture.

“Get on.”

Obediently, automatically, Charles climbed up onto the unicorn’s back. The unicorn was galloping past Michael and the children, past Mr. Stenton and his look of outrage, before Charles had time to feel frightened or doubtful, or that maybe he had been a little hasty in his decision to flee the miserable, droning, raucous life at the orphanage. He had known that the unicorn, as soon as it stood in front of him, would take him away if he so chose. However, perhaps his life was not something to cast away so quickly. Even if he was trapped and unhappy, he was alive and some kind of safe. Even if he hated it, if he wished to escape, he had not fully thought through the decision to be free and independent.

But too late, for the unicorn had leapt through the still open door.

The great unicorn flung himself into the wind, and they were soaring among the stars, part of the dance, part of the harmony. As each flaming sun turned on its axis, a singing came from the friction in the way a finger moved around the rim of a crystal goblet will make singing, and the song varied in a pitch and tone from glass to glass.

But this song was exquisite, as no song from crystal or wood or brass could be. The blending of melody and harmony was so perfect that it almost made Charles Wallace relax his hold on the unicorn’s mane.



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