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Detailed Instructions on How to Break Hearts

Pam Wallace is a little bit of this and a little of that, but the sum of her parts can mostly be described by one word: family. Her stories can be found at Daily Science Fiction, Every Day Fiction, Abyss & Apex, Shock Totem, and Journal of Unlikely Entomology, among others. She is part of the badger crew at Shimmer Magazine.

After seven days and seven nights of fasting on a lonely moor, hunt during the dark of the moon in a secluded glade. Trapping a unicorn is an onerous and grueling task. It will lead you a merry chase; you must be motivated past weariness and self-defeat. Bring an image of your daughter to mind, when she was yet rosy-cheeked and full of giggles and verve.
Do not be distracted by its dignified beauty. Harden your heart to the enormity of your crime. Do not consider whether it is the last of its kind. Pierce its eye with a silver javelin. Plug your ears so its scream will not shred your heart more than it already is. Ignore your soul.
While bleeding the animal, do not allow even one drop of its blood to mar the perfection of its silver hair. Pray, over and over again, to be forgiven, even as you know there is no one listening.
Once the soul of the animal has been released, load the body onto your travois. The toil of the next few days might serve to assuage your conscience. If not, well, there are worse burdens to carry in this world and the next.
Once back at your camp, sharpen your knives and steel your mind, for now the real work begins.
Flank: The most tender cut of meat. You may broil it, fry it, or roast it, as per your choice. The actual method of preparation is moot--the meat will be tender no matter the method. Tell your daughter it is wild boar, and hope her listlessness will keep her from noticing the twist of flavor. Distract her with stories of what may be, but never of what might have been.
Hooves: While feeding your daughter unicorn meat for the last seven days, you have also been boiling down the hooves. If tears drop into the pot along with the sawed-up chunks of hooves, the resulting glue shall be even stronger than your doubts. Feed this glue to your daughter in very small thimbles for another seven days, and pray to the full moon it will hold her insides together and halt the wasting away. Do not dwell on the ridges of her ribs, nor the sharp angle of hipbones jutting against skin. Step lightly around the edges of her suspicion.
Fat: With gentle care, scrape the fat from the skin and render it from the organs. Pick every last bit from heart and muscle with your bare fingers. Boil for three days, purifying with rosemary and sage. Rub the unguent into your daughter's skin for another seven days, whispering a lullaby as you do so. If she asks, tell her it is sow fat. Do not hold her too tightly for it may lessen your resolve.
Skin: While the hooves and flank and fat were boiling and roasting and rendering, you labored every night, scraping, twisting, tanning the skin into a supple, silver hide. Now, it ripples in the moonlight like gossamer wings. Your daughter knows there is only one place such a hide could come from. When you wrap her in its healing embrace, she cries out and casts it off. Tuck it back around her, time and time again. Eventually, she will tire and sleep, and then, only then, may you let precisely one last tear fall.
Horn: It will take another fortnight to grind the twisted horn down to a fine powder, one that is easily dissipated upon the midnight wind. Kneel on a bed of thorns and pray as you blow and chant and blow and chant. Watch your efforts drift on an errant breeze and do not allow your voice to break as you call on all that is holy and unholy for her healing.
Heart: A unicorn's heart is fierce and wild. You need this as well as your daughter. Dry it in the noonday sunlight for three days, then salt it. Place it in a small cedar box lined with rose petals, spider webs, and nails as sharp as a curse. While your daughter sleeps, gently lift her and her unicorn-skin blanket from the bare earth, and bury the box beneath her too-thin body. Caress her arms, massage warmth into her legs. Rock her gently, longing for the times when she was just a babe and gazed up at you with trusting eyes. Listen to her heartbeat grow steadily stronger, and ignore the sound of your own breaking.
Tongue: A unicorn tongue, cooked properly, allows one to speak in long unused languages that only the gods understand. Wish that it would also teach you how to speak in child. How do you tell a daughter you would give your life so she may live and thrive? How do you explain the lengths a parent will go for the one nurtured beneath their heart? Children do not understand these things--they must remain unsaid, hidden behind a forked tongue. You may, however, hope that someday she will understand. Until then, you will endure, as all parents must.
Do not choke on unshed tears, for you have more important things to worry about than your own conscience. If you are to be judged for loving too much, so be it. Above all, never speak of all you have done. The price you pay must never be spoken of.
After this, your work is done.
Your daughter rises and looks over the bones and scraps. Her eyes glaze with anger over the devastation you wrought in her name. Do not think of the crayon drawings of a silvery, horned creature pinned on her walls. The force of your betrayal of all she holds dear is overwhelming, and she will not forget.
Although you try, you will not, either.
Before she turns away, memorize every detail of her face. Watch her form as it grows ever smaller in the distance. Do not turn away until she has disappeared.
Your daughter will live. Whether or not she will ever forgive you is another matter entirely, but one you are more than willing to dare, for the most important thing has happened.
Your daughter will live.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

Author Comments

The initial idea for this story was it would be a humorous list story, but it quickly morphed into a tale about the lengths a mother would go to protect her child, no matter the cost.

- Pam L. Wallace
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