by Paul Zaldivar
Casey Curran was a carpenter in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. He spent his days in his woodshop, building artisan furniture for several home design companies based in Nashville. He was known around Pigeon Forge as “the man who makes Zac Brown’s furniture.” He had won many awards for craftsmanship and has been featured in several publications. But with all the talk about Casey, he always remained humble and true to his craft.
Casey lived in a log cabin in the outskirts of Pigeon Forge, in the foothills of the Great Smokey Mountains. His wife Jolene was a painter. They met in Nashville when Casey was a bassist for band that was touring through Tennessee. He had his eyes on Jolene the whole night. The two fell in love and eloped two months later. They’ve been married for 20 years. Casey and Jolene had two kids. Gabriel was their first born. At the time of this story, Gabriel was 19 years old and attending a music program in Auburn. Their youngest was their daughter Maggie. Maggie was only six years old. Maggie was an old soul trapped in a six year old’s body. She loved poetry, hot tea, and walks through the forest. This how the story begins.
Like every morning, Casey was the first to wake up. He let the dog out outside and proceeded to make his morning coffee. Jolene would sleep in and Maggie would be up as soon Casey starting using his Burr grinder. This morning was different, Casey always knew Maggie would come downstairs three minutes after he used his grinder. He even without thinking poured her usual glass of whole milk. He sat there and drank his coffee in the quiet. He walked over to the backdoor in the mudroom to check on his dog. He noticed something different in the room. There was a pair of boots missing on the shoe rack. Maggie’s boots were gone. Casey ran upstairs to Maggie’s room. He went to her bed, only to find it empty and cold. She had been gone for a while. The sun was starting to peek through the windows and Casey’s mind was starting to race. He wrote a note to Jolene that said “Jo, Maggie’s gone, I’ve gone looking for her, be back soon. –Casey”. Casey changed, put his boots on, called over his dog Fitz with a whistle. Fitz was his 10 year old German Pointer and his “apprentice” in his woodshop.
Casey knew that he had to find Maggie on his own. He didn’t know if she was lost or how serious the situation was. Maggie wasn’t an ordinary child. She had a big imagination and said she saw things that weren’t there. Casey knew if he called the police it could too late by the time they start their search.
Casey and Fitz headed out the backdoor and searched his property for some tracks. Casey found some tracks that led to the their swing set. The tracks were small, little indentations in the earth, they belonged to Maggie. Maggie’s tracks then led off the property and into the woods up to the Great Smokey Mountains. Casey spent his free time out of his woodshop hunting whatever was in season. He learned how to track from his Dad, who said that his Dad’s Dad was a fur trader and the best one in the southside of the Appalachian Mountains. Casey followed Maggie’s delicate little tracks up the foothills. The early fog was burning off and the birds were singing their morning songs. Falling autumn leaves littered across the floor. They made following Maggie’s tracks very difficult. “Maggie!” Casey shouted into the cold morning air. Only the cardinal in the tree responded. Casey could hear the creek that ran behind their property in the distance. He followed her tracks and sure enough they led straight through the creek. Fitz stopped for a drink and Casey splashed some cold creek water in his face. He was hoping he was dreaming and the water would wake him up, but to no prevail this was his reality.
The incline got steeper and steeper and her tracks grew fainter and unclear. Pretty soon they were walking on pure rock and there were no footprints to track. “Fuck!” Casey blurted out. He was angry with himself. He felt like now he’d be on a wild goose chase. He sat on the ground in udder failure. Winter was only a season away and the predators that made their homes in these mountains were fattening up for their long hibernation. He feared for his little girl’s life. He reached in his jacket for his pocket watch. It was 10:34 and the sun was almost at it’s highest point in the sky. When he was rummaging through his jacket pockets something fell out. Casey didn’t notice but Fitz did. Fitz barked and pawed at it. Casey looked down and picked it up. It was a little turquoise glove. It belonged to Maggie. Casey then remembered why he had in it in his pocket. A few days before Casey was pushing Maggie on the swing set outside their house. “Higher Daddy!” Maggie said. Casey pushed her a little harder. Casey smiled as he watched his daughter giggle oh her swing. “Daddy, I’m losing my grip!” “Give me your gloves sweetie. You’ll have a better grip.” Maggie tossed them to her father.
The sight of her glove made him miss his little girl. He looked at Fitz and had an idea. Fitz was a pointer and had retrieved many ducks for Casey this past duck hunting season. “Fitz! Where’s Maggie?” he stuck the glove in the dog’s face. “Fitz good boy, where’s Maggie?”. Fitz furiously wagged his stout tail and pressed his cold wet nose into the wool glove. Fitz then with his incredible sense of smell found the track that matched Maggie’s. He barked and the two were off in hot pursuit.
Casey and Fitz were hiking up the mountain. The amount of trees surrounding them suddenly all disappeared. There was a clearing. Casey looked back away from the mountain and out to the valley. A mix of green, orange and red topped all of the trees and buildings that made up Pigeon Forge can be seen off in the distance. Casey took in a deep breath. They were already pretty high up The Great Smokey Mountain and the air was getting thin. Casey was growing tired but his will is what kept him going. Fitz had been leading Casey most of the way now. Suddenly Fitz took off. Within a few moments Casey couldn’t see him. “Fitz!” Casey cried. “Fitz!!” No bark no cry, nothing responded back to Casey. He didn’t even know what direction to go. Casey walked up the mountain aimlessly. The trees on the side of the mountain surrounded him. He was no longer in the clearing. He continued calling out for Maggie and Fitz, “Maggie! Fitz.” He stood there in the quiet forest. He felt so hopeless. “Maggie, where are you?” Casey whispered to himself. Tears shed from his eyes down to his beard. He looked down onto the floor and his boots. He had never thought that something like this would happen. He was beginning to think of heading back down the mountain to get more help. He regretted going on his own to find his daughter. “What the hell was I thinking?” Casey said to himself. “This is my fault.” “It’s going to be my fault if we never find her.” He remembered the note he left Jolene. He knew that she wouldn’t worry about them because she trusted Casey in all of his decisions.
Casey was going to accept that he had lost Maggie and had failed at finding her. He was ready to take full accountability even though it wasn’t his fault. The weight of guilt burdened him like sack of stones. He started walking back down the mountain. Down the mountain to face the music. Maybe the authorities will find her? These thoughts raced through his head. Suddenly in the clear mountain he heard a scream “Help!” The voice was shaky in it’s tone. It sounded terrified. Casey ran toward it. He could hear barking off in the distance. “Help me!” the screams were getting closer. He raced through the rough terrain towards the sounds. He came to the edge of a cliff and found Fitz. “Daddy!” Casey looked up the mountain side it was Maggie. She was hanging on for dear life on the side of the mountain. “Maggie!” Casey cried out to her. “How did she get up there?” he wondered. She had climbed up the side on the mountain where Casey was. What possessed her to do so was unclear. Casey scaled the rocky mountain. It wasn’t as easy as it was before. His body was heavier and his bones ached with every pull and strain on his muscles. “Maggie hang on!” “I can’t Daddy, my fingers are slipping.” He looked up at his daughter. He could see tears rolling down her face, she was terrified. Her fear made Casey push on. “Maggie hang on!” Casey reached up with all of his strength. He stretched his body as far as possible and grabbed his daughter. He gripped the mountain in one hand and his daughter in one. He embraced her for what felt like a lifetime. He put her on his back. “Okay Maggie hang on, it’s just like a piggy back ride.” “Okay Daddy.” Casey carefully climbed down the mountain side. He finally made it down the where Fitz was. He put his feet on the ground let out a sigh of relief. Maggie plopped down off his back. He then picked her up held her close to him. “My little girl.” He kissed her brow and looked into her big teary eyes. “You had me worried sick pumpkin.” “I’m sorry Daddy.” Maggie said. “Why did you come up here?” Casey asked. “I woke up before you did. I looked out my window and saw a unicorn. Daddy it was a unicorn I swear. It was white and it was beautiful. I wanted to look at it some more so I started following it. It came up here.” “A unicorn? Maggie you know those aren’t real.” “But I saw it Daddy! It was right there in front of me.” “Then why were on the side of the mountain? Maggie you don’t even know how to mountain climb.” “Daddy it climbed up there, it climbed all the way up the mountain.” “Maggie you can’t go off like that, even if it’s a unicorn. C’mon now we gotta get home before your mother worries about us.” “You don’t believe me!” “Maggie unicorns aren’t real baby.” “But I saw it Daddy, I swear!” “Stop swearing Maggie, your mother doesn’t like when you use that word.” “Yes sir.” “Let’s go home now.”
Casey took Maggie by the hand and they made their way back home. Fitz followed closely behind. They walked down the mountain and through the woods. The walk back down was a lot easier. “I’m hungry Daddy” Maggie said. “We’ll make something good for lunch baby, you just have to wait till we get back.” “Okay Daddy.”
Casey led the way. It was way past lunchtime now and the three of them all had empty stomachs. Sure the walk back was easier because it was all downhill but their bellies growled for nourishment.
They were approaching the creek and decided to help their hunger, that they would stop for a drink of the cold mountain water. The three of them were taking drinks from the creek. They had their heads down to the water when they heard rustling in the distance. “Daddy look it’s the unicorn!” Casey looked up. He saw what Maggie was describing as a unicorn. It had black hooves and shiny white coat. It had one horn on top of it’s head. What Maggie saw was an Appalachian white-tailed deer. He was an albino deer with only on single horn on his head. This told Casey that it was an adolescent male. It also told Casey, that Maggie wasn’t lying. “See Daddy! I told you I saw a unicorn.” Casey smiled. He was happy that his daughter had such a rich imagination and a great need for adventure. “Your right honey, I should have never doubted you.” Casey and Maggie looked on at the deer. It was a majestic creature. Casey’s mind raced again, but only this time it was pure emotion. He was so relieved to have his daughter by his side.
Casey, Maggie and Fitz left the creek and the deer and headed back home. Jolene was outside on the deck, waiting to greet them. “Where have y’all been?! I was starting to get worried.” “Mommy I saw a unicorn! Daddy saw it too! Didn’t ya Daddy?” Maggie said. Jolene looked at her husband with her eyebrows raised. “She’s right Jo, we saw a unicorn.” “C’mon now y’all are yanking my chain!” “No Mommy I followed it up the mountain to where it lived.” “Casey is she telling the truth?” Casey grabbed his wife and kissed her “Yes baby, she is.” “Well okay, whatever. I bet y’all are hungry huh?” “Yes ma’am!” said Maggie. “Y’all wash up and I’ll fix up some lunch.” “Can we have breakfast?” Maggie said. “But it’s three thirty in the afternoon pumpkin, it’s almost supper time.” “C’mon Jo, we missed breakfast and lunch can you fix us some breakfast please?” said Casey. “Okay fine! You two wash up and I’ll fix up some biscuits and gravy.” “I’ll take a black coffee.” Casey said. “And I’ll have some milk please!” said Maggie. Casey and Maggie ate breakfast. It was the most satisfying meal that they ever had. The two got their bellies nice and full. They both laid on the couch in food coma. Maggie fell asleep in her Dad’s arms.
Casey was at peace with what happened today. He almost gave up on looking for her. But his love and dedication to his family is what kept him going on. He looked at Maggie as she napped peacefully in his warm embrace. He kissed on her head and he shut his eyes. He fell asleep and dreamt of creeks and mountains. And in those mountains lived the unicorn.