Once, in a world not so far away, in a time not so long ago, robot unicorns were everywhere. You’d go downtown to see a movie and a robot unicorn would sell you your ticket, you’d walk to the beach and see a robot unicorn galloping on the sand with its joints and gears creaking like the doors of an old car someone left out in a field to rust, you’d stop in at your local bookstore and there was your favorite robot unicorn sitting in the cushy chair that’s always in the corner reading A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. (It’s a little known fact that robot unicorns love Dave Eggers.)
At this time robot unicorns were known for loving many things—Bagels and lox, sunshine of course, orange juice, abstract art, colors, WD-40, the way grass sounds when it’s windy outside and everything else is quiet, a good description of a place, algorithms (which may not sound very poetic but robot unicorns are part robot after all and their robot-parts love it when everything lines up and things finally make sense), the stories old people tell when they sit around tables and remember things, the beach, dogs, heat, rainy days that seem just a bit sad but beautiful too, embarrassing moments, the way flowers look in a vase, or the feeling of pavement as it hits their metal hoofs in a hard clop clop clop, clink, clink, clink.
Nobody knows where robot unicorns came from. They just showed up one day and they were so nice that nobody wanted to ask. Maybe people were afraid of the answer. Or maybe it didn’t matter where robot unicorns came from. But when they suddenly started leaving, people began to worry. People began to ask to the robot unicorns, “Where are you going?” But the robot unicorns did not answer. (They can’t talk. They are silent, solemn figures that are tall and noble like cowboys or knights.) And so slowly, silently, the robot unicorns began to disappear.
Until one day…
A girl, lets call her, oh, I dunno, something pretty like Weslie (it’s an odd name I know but this was an odd girl) found a robot unicorn rummaging through a dumpster at the end of a long dark alley.
“What are you looking for?” Weslie asked.
The robot unicorn did not answer. Like I said, it couldn’t talk and even if it did, it didn’t know the answer anyway. Sometimes the unicorns-parts of a robot unicorn will look for things without knowing what its looking for. This is probably how they figured out about orange juice.
“Do you need help?” the girl asked getting closer.
And still the robot unicorn did not answer. It just kept its nose in the dumpster.
“I guess that means no,” she said, and began to turn around and walk away.
But then the robot unicorn made a sound. It kind of neighed but it was a weird neigh of course, a robot neigh that sounded like a cross between the winding of a spring and the beeping noise an alarm makes when it’s time to wake up.
The girl turned around and the robot unicorn had something it its mouth. It walked up to the girl and nudged her hand with its big robot unicorn face that was surprisingly warm for metal.
In its mouth was a notebook. The girl took it. Some of the pages had writing on them and some of them did not. It was old and dirty. It smelled like rotten fish and soil. Maybe it was even a little sour. But the girl held on to it. She opened it up and read the words that were inside—something about chemicals of the brain and how they affect mood, obvious notes from a college course. But the girl didn’t know enough to figure out what was really being studied.
Weslie looked at the inside cover to see if the book had a name or an owner, but there was no name and the book did not belong to anyone. Instead, what the book had, was the word, “ALWAYS,” written in thick black writing in the bottom right corner.
There were a lot of things Weslie didn’t know–things like what she should do or say. But it’s okay not to know things. Especially when you are standing in a dark alley with a robot unicorn holding a book that says ALWAYS on the inside. It’s still annoying though, this not knowing. So the girl did what any unknowing girl would do (any unknowing girl with any kind gumption at all that is) she made something up.
Weslie said goodbye to the robot unicorn. She went home and there she drew a picture of its grey robot body, rainbow hair, and turquoise eyes. She sat in her room alone and wondered at what she had done. She wrote the word always under her robot unicorn picture if fancy pink writing. She put gold around the outside.
She did not know why she wrote this. She did not know what it meant.
But we do.
Because, lucky for us, we are not unknowing. We know what Weslie does not—that even though nobody sees them anymore, robot unicorns really do exist. People may think they’ve disappeared but they haven’t gone anywhere. How do we know this? Because we saw a picture of them once and their images are in our heads now—clomping around on their big metal hoofs, prancing to the soundtrack from Dirty Dancing, writing poems about hybrid cars and donuts, eating lunch at our favorite restaurants, pooping weird robot poop that’s kind of like motor oil but thicker and smelly and kind of moldy like dirt that’s gone bad.
And guess what else? Robot unicorns will always be there. Because the picture told us so. But also, that’s just how robot unicorns are. Kind of magic and kind of machine.
It’s weird I know. And maybe you really don’t understand. Maybe you’re unknowing too and you don’t believe me at all. But whether you believe me or not, robot unicorns are real. They’re real because I want them to be and because I said so.