The Magic Tree
I never liked Christmas. Everybody going Ho-ho-ho and Have a Merry,
Merry Christmas. That’s not how it felt. Sure, it was full of glittery
lights and snowy nights, but there was something else, something
underneath it all, that didn’t feel good. Something that wouldn’t go
away, even with all the pretty decorations and Daddy’s warm fire and
Mom’s hot chocolate.
Something sad, like when you have to say good-bye to a close friend and
you don’t want to. Something final that was going to come to an end no
matter how hard you wished for it not to.
I sat by myself at the back of Daddies wagon, feeling cold and alone.
The others were squeezed in around the sides of the Christmas tree. Its
huge boughs lay across their laps and softly jounced to the muffled gait
of our wagon’s mismatched Clydesdales, Molly and Blue.
Chocolate brown with a misty white blaze, Molly is friskier and shorter
than Blue, who is older and slower, his coat a mottled blue-gray and his
mane and tail black.
Snorting steam, they tossed their heads and shook their harness bells. I
could tell they were happy to be pulling such a light load. Their usual
job is hauling heavier loads of exotic trees like black walnut and
silver ash from our forest. Daddy then harvests, dries, and mills the
trees to create the beautiful inlaid designs for the furniture he
This would be the last Christmas tree that would hang out over the back
of our wagon and smother us in its piney perfume.
House lights sparkled across the valley, and I could smell a burning
I love this valley. I love our house that Daddy built with his own
hands. He got the neighboring farmers to help, and we all pitched in,
even Uncle Billy.
It took the whole summer to build. I remembered the first night we slept
on the ground and stared up at the ceiling of stars silhouetting the
crisscrossing beams of our newly raised roof. The crickets kept watch on
the night, and Daddy told Mom that we were sleeping in her kitchen, even
though Jesse insisted it was the living room because it felt that way.
I didn’t care. For me, all that mattered was that it was our house.
Some idiots at my school said it looked like a wood-and-glass spaceship.
Jesse said it looked like a giant crystal, with its twenty-foot
ceilings, its sharp spires, and its triangular windows, but what did he
Ever since Cody and Jesse found some rocks and minerals inside Indian
Tooth, the abandoned silver mine above our house, my annoying little
brother had become an expert on crystals.
Worse still, Cody gave Jesse a book called The World Book of Rocks and
Minerals last year, and Jesse became obsessed with crystals and how any
shape, color, or texture the human brain could possibly imagine already
He said Daddy’s design of the house was proof.
Proof of what, I wondered; it doesn’t look like a crystal to me. It
looks like a collection of wooden pyramids, with its great oak beams and
long sloping walls.
Well, it doesn’t matter anymore. The Colorado State Bank is kicking us
out of our house and there is nothing we can do about it.
"Jesse, I think your mother’s going to love this tree,” Aunt Doris
Refusing to answer, Jesse sulked, hunched in his seat next to Daddy, who
flicked the thick reins and quietly clucked to Molly and Blue. Sometimes
I find it hard to believe that Jesse and I are brother and sister.
He’s so different from me, with his green eyes and pointy head, and
his belief that there is “something else” out there that you can’t
see or touch.
Aunt Doris, Uncle Billy, and Cody live two states away and have stayed
with us every Christmas for as long as I can remember. This year they
came earlier because Mom is getting sicker and Daddy is struggling to
take care of her while closing up his business.
We are going to be moving in with them, after.
After. That’s how everybody talks about it.
I hate the way everyone is always saying “after” and “when” and
never saying the horrible words that follow, but letting their voices
trail off like forgotten thoughts. And the way Aunt Doris is trying to
connect with Jesse more than ever, knitting him two sweaters this
Christmas and bringing him even more of his favorite cookies than she
Cody gave Jesse yet another book, The Alchemy of Crystals, that tells
about all the mystical things people believed crystals could do, like
healing and telling the future. Now all Jesse talks about are the
“magical properties” of crystals, and the special relationship that
humans have with crystals and minerals that can turn lead into gold with
the power of the heart. Jesse and Cody spend hours and hours in
Jesse’s room searching for magical ways to save Mom. That’s all he
believes in, that and finding a way to keep us from moving.
Me? I refuse to believe in anything. My world had changed so much since
Jesse was born that whenever anything bad happens; I think it’s just
Like when Dr. Fresnel sat with Daddy, Jesse, and me in the ugly green
hospital waiting room, with its orange chairs and smell of disinfectant
and sick people.
While he was quietly explaining that there was nothing more they could
do for Mom and that this third visit was going to be her last, Jesse
kept this real stony look on his face as if he were trying to keep the
words from getting in.
I had already figured out that she was dying. You could just look at her
sunken blue eyes and wispy hair and see that she was wasting away.
Then one day I caught her and Daddy talking quietly in their bedroom
about us moving in with Aunt Doris and Uncle Billy, “after.”
Daddy was sitting on the edge of the beautiful bed he had built for
them, and Mom was propped up against the headboard, which fanned out
behind her like the rays of a setting sun. It was inlaid with an
intricate design of dark- and light-colored woods, which if you looked
really closely, resembled a portrait of each one of us.
Daddy was crying and Mom was holding his hand, and then I was standing
in the doorway asking, "Why?"
That’s all I kept saying: "Why?"
As if she were talking about the weather, Mom kept trying to explain
that not enough people were buying Daddy’s wonderful furniture and
that’s why the bank was recalling our loan that had let us buy the
land and build our house. Besides, Uncle Billy’s home was only
temporary and only two states away.
Then she reached out to me with her thin arms.
I couldn’t go to her.
I couldn’t move.
My chest hurt, and my throat was a burning knot, and when she said that
it was really important to be careful how we told Jesse that we needed
to take care of Jesse because Jesse was so young and Jesse couldn’t
understand these things I burst out crying and yelled that it was always
all about Jesse! What about me? What about my feelings?
And I turned and ran from their room.
It took us forever to decorate the tree.
Jesse refused to help, so Cody and I got out the ladders and put up the
crystal balls and colored lights while Mom dozed beneath her purple
comforter on the couch.
Uncle Billy was cooking his favorite tuna casserole with baked beans and
it was stinking up the entire house. Daddy was still in his woodshop.
We were practically finished with the tree when Jesse came clomping down
the split-log staircase carrying three sloppily wrapped gifts.
"Oh, look, it’s Santa!" I teased, dropping silver tinsel on his
pinhead as he placed two of his gifts beneath the tree. “Jesse still
believes in Santa."
Brushing off the tinsel, Jesse carried his third present over to Mom and
carefully sat on the edge of the couch.
She gently pushed the hair from his eyes as she always did. "It's a
beautiful tree, Jesse," she said softly.
“Jesse didn’t want us to cut it down," I told her. "He said it was
"It is special," Mom affirmed, once again taking Jesse's side.
She’s always taking Jesse’s side.
"It didn't want to be cut down!" Jesse pouted. "Besides, why do we need
such a big tree?"
“Jesse had a conversation with the tree," I joked, dropping tinsel on
"Why do you have to be such a loser?" Jesse whined.
Mom sighed. "Do you think you two could sign a truce for maybe one
"Why are you putting so much tinsel on it?" Jesse complained.
"Because it’s Christmas, dummy," I chirped, tossing another handful on
the tree. “More is better.”
Grumbling sourly, Jesse demanded, “What’s so special about having a
Christmas tree anyway?”
Mom smiled and gave him a weak hug. “You love Christmas trees,
Jesse!” she reminded him as he continued to sulk. “You know,” she
confided, “I’ve often thought that when our ancestors found
themselves living in the northernmost climes, where it was dark
twenty-four hours a day in the dead of winter, they must have lived in
fear that the light would never return.”
"So they chose a plant that was always green the Evergreen tree and
decorated it with things to eat and symbols of life as an offering to
the light so that it would return."
"Well, we have electricity," Jesse grouched. "And we know the light will
"It's not about electricity," Mom explained patiently. "And there’s a
big difference between what we know and what we fear."
Ever since we were old enough to understand words, Mom had told us
stories of magical children, animals, kings, queens, and dragons. When I
was little, I believed in all that stuff, but after Jesse was born, I
found them just plain boring. I thought it was a bad joke on people who
needed something to believe in.
Jesse was nine, though, and he still believed. He and Mom would sit in
the kitchen for hours having big discussions about why things happened.
Daddy and I were more alike. We only trusted what was right in front of
us, what we could hold on to and see.
Jesse handed Mom the gift he had for her.
Smiling softly, she sighed, “Can't this wait till morning?"
I knew she was tired and wanted to rest, but Jesse stubbornly shook his
"There are other gifts for tomorrow," he insisted.
Studying him, she mused, "You’re a funny boy." And taking a moment to
collect her strength, she carefully undid Jesse’s sloppy bow and
wrinkled wrapping paper as though they were as valuable as the gift
Holding up a chunk of purple-and-white crystals she exclaimed, "It's
beautiful, Jesse!" Then a look of concern crossed her face. "Where did
you get it?" she asked, as if she didn’t already know.
We all knew. He’d gotten it from Indian Tooth Mine--- where he
wasn’t supposed to go.
Ignoring the question, Jesse gushed, "It's amethyst! It’s over nine
hundred million years old! Amethyst is the most healing of all the
crystals. They say it carries the female energy of the Moon and is an
excellent stone for meditations"
"I'll keep it right next to my bed, Jesse," Mom assured him.
"It likes seawater and cold . . .” his voice rising, “and is the
best for the sixth chakra, the “crown” chakra, and . . .”
Closing her eyes, Mom insisted tiredly, “I’m fine, Jesse.”
“No, you’re not!” he blurted.
There was an embarrassed silence as Cody shifted uncomfortably on his
ladder. I could have killed Jesse.
Mom took his hand and confided quietly, “Jesse . . . do you know what
my daddy used to say to me? “Wherever we find ourselves, we’re there
for a reason, even if the only reason is that that’s where we find
“Well, riddles aren’t going to make you better!” Jesse protested,
not caring that everyone was listening.
Slowly shaking her head, she whispered, “No, they aren’t. But they
can help with your fear.”
You could tell she hated having to treat him like an adult when he was
still such a baby.
Gently admonishing him, she weakly held up the piece of amethyst.
“This is very beautiful, Jesse . . . but what did we say about not
going into the mine?”
“He’s not supposed to,” I reminded her, “but that doesn’t stop
Jesse got away with everything.
Mom gave me a disapproving glance as Uncle Billy appeared in the doorway
wearing an apron and a spatula.
“I hope everybody’s as hungry as I am!” he announced
Oblivious to everyone’s look of panic at the mention of his awful
cooking, Uncle Billy disappeared back into the kitchen, yelling,
“Jesse, go get your old man.”
Mom gave Jesse a playful nudge. “Go on, mister,” she urged, “and
promise me that’s the last time you go into that mine. It’s
Jesse reluctantly nodded, picked himself up, and shuffled out of the
Mom wouldn’t stop looking at me.
“What?” I snapped.
Slowly shaking her head, she sighed, “Jesse just wants to believe,
sweetheart. Is it so hard for you to believe?”
“I don’t know,” I shot back. “What’s it gotten you?”
I would have given anything to have taken back those words.
Smiling sadly, mom closed her eyes and lay back on her pillow.
I felt ashamed and angry.
I wanted to disappear.
“I’ll never believe! In anything!” I cried. “Never! Ever!”
And I flew up the stairs.
I dreamt of moonlit clouds.
Their shadows drifted silently over our snow-covered valley as the wind
whipped and whistled, and an occasional light twinkled in the distance.
I dreamt of Jesse asleep, curled up on his bed in the dirty BMX jacket
he practically lived in. He was clenching a chunk of purple amethyst
crystals in one hand and his magnifying glass in the other. His crystal
and gem books were flung open about his Boy Scout blanket like a
meandering castle wall.
I dreamt of his desk and shelves covered with their mess of glittering
geodes mixed with rocks of all shapes and sizes. Pieces of petrified
wood, fossils, and flint arrowheads were
scattered about, and his collection of model airplanes dangled suspended
from the ceiling as long shadows of the knights and kings on his
chessboard attacked the skateboarders that flew through icy blue skies
on the posters tacked to his sloping walls.
He didn’t feel the house move.
He didn’t feel it roll as if atop the swell of a slow-moving wave.
He didn’t feel his bed slide two inches.
It was the half globe of a crystal geode crashing onto the floor that
made his eyes pop open.
At first he couldn’t make sense of his model airplanes lazily swinging
back and forth in the blur above him.
The house groaned and moved again, and several more rocks clattered to
the floor and Jesse sat bolt upright in panic.
Then Jesse was shaking my shoulder and blasting his new flashlight in my
“Maggie! Maggie! Did you feel that?” Jesse whispered wetly in my
“What the---!” I rasped, trying to push the blinding light out of my
face. “You scared me, you idiot!”
“Did you feel it?” he demanded, not caring about anything but
“I was sleeping, and no, I didn’t! Whatever “it” was.”
Grabbing my arm, he stuck his smelly face into mine. “The house!” he
spluttered, spraying me with a shower of saliva. His eyes were wide in
the moonlight. “It moved! Didn’t you feel it move?”
Had I? In my dream, yes . . . but was I still dreaming?
Jesse was listening for something. For what?
“What?” I demanded, shaking off his hand.
He shushed me and kept listening.
Flopping angrily onto my back, I yanked the covers over my head and
snarled, “Get out of my room or I’m going to call Daddy!”
I could see his flashlight beam drilling at the inside of my blanket.
“It moved! I was in bed and---”
I sat straight up. “I don’t want to play! Okay?” I hissed.
His mouth kept opening and closing like he was a fish out of water.
Disgusted, I lay back down.
“I’m not leaving till you come and look,” he threatened.
I sat back up so quickly I nearly knocked him over.
“You’re gonna be sooo sorry!” I promised him.
Stepping into my boots, I pulled on my winter jacket---we couldn’t
afford to heat the house at night even though Mom had insisted we keep
the Christmas tree lights on---and angrily followed Jesse to the top of
He was shining his flashlight into the living room below.
Everything looked normal to me.
“You’re so dead,” I said, turning to go back to bed.
“Wait!” he cried, grabbing my sleeve.
“Ow! What’re you doing?” I yelped.
“Look!” he squeaked, pointing his flashlight at a pile of gifts
stacked beneath the blinking lights of the Christmas tree.
“Oh, look, it must’ve been Santa!” I smirked.
“No, LOOK!” Jesse insisted, jabbing his flashlight beam at a large
green box with a wide red ribbon around it. The box jiggled a little,
moved sideways, and slowly slid off a smaller blue box.
“Did you see that?”
“See what? The box moved,” I pointed out, knowing it didn’t make
any sense. “Maybe it’s a new pet or something.”
Then it moved again.
“That!” Jesse exclaimed and started down the stairs.
Seizing the arm of his jacket, I demanded, “What are you doing!”
“Goin” to look!” he snapped, snatching his arm back and leaving me
standing alone on the staircase.
“We shouldn’t even be up!” I whispered loudly as I stumbled after
him. “Those are our Christmas presents!” I had a bad feeling inside,
and I just wanted to go back to bed.
Stopping two feet from the big green box, Jesse took a breath and then
nudged it with his toe.
“I’m going back to bed,” I announced.
He pushed it again, harder.
This time the box slid to the side and my heart nearly leapt out of my
chest. Underneath the box, the tree had . . . regrown its roots through
This had to be a dream.
Large twisting roots wound around the dead trunk and then plunged into
and through Daddy’s hardwood floor!
“They go right through the floor!” Jesse exclaimed, pointing out the
“Look!” he squealed, pointing at a large, gaping hole between two of
the twisting roots. Getting down on his knees, he crawled closer.
“Jesse!” I rasped. It was as if he were still in diapers, crawling
after anything that caught his curiosity---which was usually everything.
Stumbling down the stairs, I crept up behind him and peeked over his
shoulder. The yawning hole disappeared into complete darkness! Squeezing
my eyes shut, I silently prayed, this is a dream, this is a dream . . .
When I opened my eyes, Jesse was leaning out over the edge of the hole!
“Jesse!” “Helloooo?” he softly called into the abyss. We held
our breath and listened. There was nothing, not even an echo. Jesse
pointed his flashlight down into the hole and the beam of light dove
into the black emptiness and disappeared. Jesse turned off his
flashlight and a shiver flew up my spine. “There ... There!” I
blurted. Twinkling far below us was a pinprick of light that seemed to
be getting brighter.
Then it became two lights, and they were both getting brighter, and
bigger! Oh my God! I thought. They’re coming toward us!
I wanted to stand up and run. Please, Mommy and Daddy, make me wake up!
Please let me wake up! I couldn’t move.
The lights were getting closer and larger . . . Then they just stopped
and floated there in the black chasm beneath us.
I blinked and shook my head.
The lights were changing shape!
They were growing eyes . . . and mouths! They were becoming faces!
Two bodiless faces were looking up at us and watching us as if they were
The one that was staring at me seemed familiar.
Then it smiled.
It was me!
It was my face---my own face staring back at me!
I couldn’t breathe. Petrified, I got to my feet. The room began to
spin. I took a step. . .
But there was nothing beneath me!
I had stepped into the hole ... into the faces ... I was falling!
I screamed, and suddenly everything slowed.
There was Jesse’s outstretched hand! It took an eternity to reach for
it, then it was sliding away, and his mouth was opening in a silent
He was falling as well!
Our echoing screams doubled and redoubled as we fell through brilliant
ribbons and tubes of colored light!
“Jesse . . . esseee . . . esseee!!”
“Aggie . . . Maaaggiee . . . ggieee!!”
Snaking streams of light spiraled up and around us like an endless helix
of DNA molecules.
Images began to appear and spin past us. Images of people and places:
recess at school, our unfinished house, Mommy and Daddy wearing birthday
hats. And there were sounds! Sounds of laughter, a baby crying, horses
neighing. There were more images: Nick at Nite, the Teletubbies, the
9/11 Towers collapsing; Mom holding us, playing with us, laughing,
Turning “round and “round as we fell, each time I saw Jesse he
looked younger, and smaller! He was eight years old, then five, then
two. He was becoming a baby!
I looked down at my own hands. They had become small and pink and
There were still more images . . . and sounds: Fireworks, and family
picnics, a boat rocking in a storm . . . the moon and stars, baby
chickens pecking at my toes . . . rushing water, Jesse’s first steps .
. . Mom leaning over me with a bottle.
There was a face with a doctor’s mask and a blur of eyes peering down
at me . . . then nothing!
Nothing but blackness.
Excerpted from "Chrystallia and the Source of Light" by Paul Michael Glaser. Copyright © 2011 by Paul Michael Glaser. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.