What a freaky thing to wake up to two feet of snow on Halloween! I opened my eyes slowly, hoping that last night’s snow had melted, but I looked out my bedroom window, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Mom peeked in earlier to tell me that school was canceled, which meant no costume parade, no powdered sugar doughnuts, and no apple cider for me today. I was really bummed! I was looking forward to dressing up as a ninja with my best friend for months. We had matching black-and-red costumes with silver ninja stars on our belts and swords to sling over our backs. We each had a black hood with a small opening for our eyes to peek out. But Mother Nature tricked us instead.
It was still early and my room was freezing. I hopped out of bed, pulled on a sweatshirt, grabbed a pair of socks, and ran downstairs to the kitchen.
“Mom! Why’s it so cold in here?” I jogged in place and blew warm air into my hands. She had several lit candles around the kitchen that created a little bit of heat, and made shadows dance on the walls. I sat at the table to pull on my socks.
“Power’s out. I’m boiling some water to make oatmeal, and then we’re headed to your grandpa’s. His wood stove will keep us nice and warm. Why don’t you pack a bag until the oatmeal’s ready? We’re supposed to get another 12 inches of snow today, so we’ll probably stay a couple days at least. We’ll take Midnight with us, too.”
Midnight was our cat. She looked just like a Halloween cat – solid black with green eyes and a little white smudge on her nose.
My mind was still on my school’s Halloween party. “I’m pretty sure Matty and I would’ve won the costume contest today. No one else in fourth grade was going to be ninjas. Just us.”
“Maybe.” Mom held her hands over the pot of oatmeal to warm them up. She had her long dark hair pulled back into a ponytail, and was wearing her red bathrobe on top of her flannel shirt and jeans.
“Bring your costume with you. I’m sure Grandpa would love to see it. I talked to him this morning, and he’s already made a big batch of caramel corn he plans to hand out to his trick-or-treaters.” She winked.
“He lives in the country. He never gets trick-or-treaters!”
“I know that, and you know that, but he insists on having treats ready, just in case.”
I ran back upstairs and packed my duffel. Two pairs of pajamas, two pairs of jeans, and two flannel shirts. Four pairs of socks and underwear, and my ninja costume, of course. I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth and packed my toothbrush, too.
Mom gobbled her breakfast and packed some bacon, eggs, steaks, and potatoes into a sturdy cardboard box. She opened the pantry cabinet and grabbed several cans of cat food and a bag of treats, too. Then she opened the hallway closet and pulled out our winter coats, two hats, and her boots.
“Where are your winter boots, Josh?” She asked.
“In the basement, I think.” I blew on my oatmeal before adding milk to cool it down. I tested it with my tongue. I liked how there was a big blob of brown sugar on top. That was my favorite part.
She hurried down the stairs into the basement with a flashlight and brought up my snow boots, and Midnight followed her up.
Mom closed the basement door so the cat would stay upstairs with us, and after breakfast, we were ready to go. Mom opened the front door, grabbed the broom propped in the porch’s corner, and swept the powdery snow off the steps and her SUV. She turned on the car to warm it up. We loaded our bags and supplies into the back hatch and I stuffed Midnight into her carrier before putting her on the back seat. Mom locked the house, and we were off.
Snow flurries started to drop again, making it hard for Mom to see the road. She switched off the radio, and all we could hear was the flup-flup of the windshield wipers. The sky became darker. Mom slowed way down, and we crept along the country roads. There were many power lines down along the way.
Our neighbor, Mr. Jones, had decorated his yard to look like a haunted cemetery; it seemed incredibly creepy, covered in snow. No lights were on at his place or any other houses in our neighborhood, and I was glad we were going to Grandpa’s house. No matter what was happening outside, it would be warm and cozy there.
We arrived at Grandpa’s house a short time later, and even though it was morning, the cold and the dark made it feel much later. Grandpa had shoveled a path to his front door, and he came outside when he heard us pull up, yanking a stocking cap onto his head to keep the chill off.
He greeted us with a boisterous “Merry Christmas!” Then, he gave us each a big squeeze. He smelled of wood smoke.
“It’s Halloween, not Christmas,” I said.
“Then riddle me this: why is it snowing?” he asked.
“Because Mother Nature is the one playing tricks today,” I said.
We carried our stuff into Grandpa’s house together, and he stoked the fire, causing the flames to grow. Mom took the box of food into the kitchen and walked down the little hallway to unpack her clothes.
“Josh, I set you up with a sleeping bag on the floor over here. I thought Midnight might feel more secure settling into my house if you were here by her.”
“Good idea, Grandpa,” I said. I moved Midnight’s carrier near my sleeping bag and opened it up. She was curious but cautious and decided to stay put.
Grandpa was rustling in a drawer in the kitchen.
“I have some skewers in here somewhere. I thought we could make some S’mores since we have a decent fire. This dang drawer is stuck.”
He continued to jiggle it until he could see what had it jammed. He reached in, moved a long black spatula out of the way, and opened the drawer.
Snow continued to dump outside. I napped with Midnight curled next to me by the crackling fire. I dreamed I was in a restaurant and a pretty waitress brought me some cake. I opened my eyes and saw Grandpa lifting a pan of cornbread out of the oven to cool. I rolled onto my side and watched Grandpa delight in cooking for Mom and me. We all soon gathered around the small kitchen table and ate by firelight. The curtains were left wide open so we could look out and watch this freaky Halloween storm snow us in. The tall cedar trees were covered in snow and looked heavy under its weight.
Mom cleared our dishes into the sink and brought a large blue bowl of caramel corn from the kitchen. She set it on the coffee table.
“I’ll be right back with the S’mores fixings,” she grinned. I knew S’mores weren’t her favorite treats but Grandpa was excited to have all the ingredients, so I knew she’d have at least one.
“Where did Grandpa disappear to?” I asked, looking around.
“I’m not sure,” she said.
Just then, Grandpa came into the living room dressed as a doctor, with a buttoned white coat and a stethoscope draped around his neck. He had a small pad of paper, a black ballpoint pen, and his reading glasses peeking out his coat pocket.
“Aren’t we dressing up for Halloween?” he asked.
Mom and I laughed and I zoomed into her room to change into my ninja costume. I needed help getting the mask lined up so I could see out of it, but it worked. I ran into the living room and showed off my costume, tossing the ninja stars toward the front door. Then I grabbed my sword and did a little demonstration.
Mom smiled. She had placed little plates and mugs of hot chocolate onto the coffee table. I took off my mask and we proceeded to roast our marshmallows over the fire. I roasted mine two at a time, catching them on fire and turning them black before blowing them out and squeezing them between the chocolate squares and graham crackers.
“Now for the entertainment!” Grandpa announced loudly. “I’m going to read you my spooky story. I’ve been working on it all week, but since the snowstorm hit, my writing club won’t get to hear it.”
I used a cloth napkin to wipe the sticky from my hands, and then sat crisscross applesauce on my sleeping bag to listen. I secretly hoped the story wasn’t too spooky! I’d be embarrassed to ask Grandpa for a nightlight, now that I was in fourth grade.
Grandpa stood up and straightened his papers. He cleared his throat and said, “This is called, The Boy Who Was a Tree.”
He put on his glasses and began to read.
“Welcome to Grief Share,” the counselor greeted Beth as she wandered into the room. “I’m Amanda, your facilitator. Grab a water or some coffee, and then take a seat.”
Beth’s eyes were wide and bloodshot. She wore grey sweats with grass stains on the knees and a half-tucked-in Def Leppard tee shirt. Her mousy hair was greasy and pulled into a messy bun. There were little pieces of tree bark in her hair. She looked like she hadn’t slept in days. She dragged a folding chair into the circle, making a piercing screech on the tile floor, and then slumped into the chair and quickly rocked herself back and forth.
Amanda started the meeting, and men and women took turns introducing themselves, and some shared whom they had lost. A few were overcome with emotion and said, “Pass.” Most group members were older than Beth and had lost a spouse or a parent. One woman sobbed uncontrollably, and the woman sitting beside her tenderly patted her neighbor’s shoulder. The sobbing softened.
When it was Beth’s turn to introduce herself, she stared straight ahead toward the floor and spoke very softly.
“My-name-is-Beth-and-I-lost-my-son,” she said quickly, almost in a whisper. Her fingernails were caked with black dirt, and her hands were sticky with tree sap.
She reflected on last Tuesday afternoon when her life turned upside down. Was it only last week? She wished she’d paid more attention when she arrived home that day.
Aidan held onto the railing and stepped down from the school bus—another day in fourth grade, over and done.
“Later, Freak!” a stocky sixth-grader in a jean jacket called to him from the back of the bus. His group of friends cackled with him. They’d spent the entire bus ride taunting Aidan. His back was hunched from scoliosis. He was short, skinny, and wore glasses. He was sweet and tenderhearted and was used to people picking on him for his appearance. If only he could be more thick-skinned, he thought to himself. His brown eyes welled with tears, but he refused to let them fall.
“Hey! That’s enough,” Betty, the bus driver, yelled to the boys, glaring into the mirror as she slowed the bus to let Aidan off. “See you tomorrow,” she said gently to Aidan. “Don’t let them get to you.”
“Bye,” Aidan mumbled, clutching his science journal to his chest. He trudged down the driveway to his house. The weight of his backpack exacerbated the pain in his back, and he took it off and set it by his front door. He reached inside his shirt to pull a key on a string from around his neck and opened the door to let himself in. Mom wasn’t home from work yet, and he grabbed a slice of cold pizza from the fridge, picked up his journal, and headed outside to sit under a large evergreen.
He opened his journal and studied what he’d written in class. “Trees are tall and strong. They have tough bark, and their roots sink deep into the earth.” He’d sketched a crude cedar tree and a self-portrait next to it that depicted his twisted spine and glasses. If only he could stand tall like a tree. After a lifetime of doctors’ visits and painful treatments, he’d give anything to straighten his spine.
“I wish I could stand tall like a tree,” Aidan said aloud.
The late afternoon was still sunny and warm, but fall was in the air, and black-capped chickadees peeped and clicked at him from above as he started to sketch. One chickadee flew down to scritch-scritch the ground, and Aidan noticed a shiny blue orb beneath the tree branch closest to the ground. He reached over and picked it up, and when he did, it sparked in his hand, causing his arm to jerk upward and get stuck to the tree’s trunk as if a force field were holding it fast. The blue gadget zapped his hand and surprised him, causing him to drop it. For a brief minute, he was one with the tree. It was like he could feel the tree’s energy being transmitted into his body. He rubbed his hand and examined it; his palm was dark brown where the orb had been.
Just then, his mom arrived home, waving to him as she pulled into the driveway.
“Hi, honey! How was school?” she called. He stood up and gathered his journal, still feeling dazed.
“Hi, Mom! School was school.” He decided not to tell her about the boys on the bus. “But the weirdest thing happened to me just now. I was sitting here working on my homework, and I picked up this –”
Just then, his mom’s cell phone rang. She reached into her bag, picked up her phone, and answered it. “It’s work,” she said and headed toward the house, her ear to the phone, completely missing what Aidan was about to share.
Aidan returned to the cedar tree to look for the orb, but he couldn’t find it.
When Aidan awoke the following day, he sat up in bed. He felt a little taller and less hunched.
When he flung back his covers, there were hundreds of cedar needles on his sheets, and when he got dressed, he noticed needles protruding from his arms and legs, like hair. He picked at them and pulled them out, and new needles immediately appeared as he did. His heart started racing. What was going on? He dressed quickly, putting on jeans, a long-sleeved tee shirt, and a flannel shirt before going down to eat breakfast.
“I made us pancakes,” Mom said, her back turned toward him. Aidan sat at the table, and when she turned around, she noticed his appearance.
“Aidan! I think you’ve hit a growth spurt,” she said. She put four pancakes on his plate and two on her own, and she couldn’t take her eyes off him. When he stood up to clear their dishes, she saw that they met eye to eye. “My gosh, you are taller…and straighter!” she said.
Aidan endured another day at school. He added more details to his science journal, scribbling rapidly. On the bus, the stocky boy regarded him with a curious side-eye and left him alone. There would be no taunting today. When he got home, Aidan took his journal outside and sat under the western redcedar. Again, he saw the blue orb and grabbed it. Like yesterday, it sent shockwaves through his body, and this time, it pulled him tight to the tree trunk, pushing all the air out of his lungs. His spine cracked, and he was tossed into the air and landed flat on the ground. He gasped for air and lay splayed like a starfish in the grass, his eyes staring at the dusky blue sky.
Stunned, he hobbled into the house and sprawled on the couch. He dozed. Before he knew it, his mom arrived home from work and asked for his help making dinner.
“Wash your hands, Aidan,” his mom said. “And then I need you to chop these vegetables,” she said as she rinsed them in the sink. By now, Aidan towered over her. It was like he had grown several inches while he was at school.
She noticed the cedar needles dropping from his forearms into the sink.
“What’s going on with your skin?” she asked, taking his hands that were now rough and brown. “It looks like tree bark!”
“I tried to tell you yesterday that I had this weird experience out by the cedar tree.” He continued chopping the vegetables. “Ouch!” The knife slipped, and he cut his finger deeply, but sticky golden sap flowed from his wound instead of blood.
“Oh no!” She hugged him in a panic, not quite sure what to do, suddenly aware that something strange and severe was happening. “Show me where the weird experience happened,” she said. She grabbed a flashlight and followed Aidan out to the tree. They crouched together to look for the blue orb, and Aidan found it. He held it out for her to see, but his body suddenly stiffened. His eyes held a fixed gaze, and his feet sprouted roots right through his shoes. His arms extended overhead, and bark-covered tendrils shot out of his fingertips, becoming intertwined with the cedar. Suddenly, her fourth-grader was a 30-foot-tall tree!
His mother screamed, “Aidan! Aidaaaaaan!” The transformation happened in an instant. And then there was silence.
Beth finished sharing her story, and the Grief Share group sat silently in disbelief.
She pulled Aidan’s science journal out of her purse and flipped through its pages.
“After page one, it’s the scribblings of a madman,” she said in hysterics. Her eyes grew wild. Beth stood up forcefully, knocking her metal chair to the floor.
“He was only nine years old. My boy is gone, but he’s not dead. He’s alive and planted in my front yard!”
She uttered a deep guttural scream, and two men in white uniforms rushed in.
She laughed maniacally as they dragged her away.
Beth’s transformation from a grief-stricken mother to a woman seemingly possessed by a bizarre and unsettling story shocked the Grief Share group members. Amanda, the counselor, tried to maintain a calm and supportive atmosphere, and Beth wandered back into the room and returned to her chair.
“Let’s all take a deep breath,” Amanda said, her voice quivering slightly. “Beth, I understand this must be incredibly painful for you. Losing a loved one is one of the hardest things anyone can go through. We’re here to help you cope with your grief, no matter how unique your experience.”
Beth made a hasty apology to the group, then stood up quietly, and as the medical personnel led Beth away, the group exchanged uneasy glances. They were accustomed to stories of loss, but this one was unlike anything they had ever heard.
In the following days, news of Beth’s bizarre tale spread through the small town like wildfire. People whispered about the “tree boy” and his mother’s descent into madness. The town’s newspaper even ran a sensational headline: “Local Boy Becomes Cedar Tree – Mother Claims Bizarre Transformation.”
A team of scientists, psychologists, and medical experts descended upon Beth’s home to investigate the strange phenomenon. They examined the towering cedar tree in the front yard, which indeed seemed to have absorbed Aidan in some inexplicable way. The tree’s bark and sap samples were collected for analysis, and Beth was taken to a psychiatric facility for evaluation.
Despite their best efforts, the experts couldn’t explain the phenomenon scientifically. The tree appeared to be a healthy and ordinary cedar, and Beth’s mental state was far from stable. The story became a topic of fascination for the town, and visitors from neighboring areas came to witness the tree for themselves.
Months turned into years, and the bizarre incident remained a mystery. The cedar tree continued to grow, its branches reaching high into the sky. Some believed it held the essence of young Aidan, while others dismissed it as a tale spun from grief and despair.
Beth remained in the psychiatric facility, her condition improving, but her insistence on the truth of her story never wavered. She had moments of lucidity, where she would weep for her lost son, and moments of madness, where she spoke of the tree’s whispers and the secrets it shared with her.
The Grief Share group continued to meet, their shared experiences of loss and pain drawing them closer together. Though they couldn’t fully understand Beth’s story, they learned that grief could manifest in many strange and unexpected ways. They offered each other support, knowing that the path to healing differed for everyone.
And so, in the small quiet town, the towering cedar tree stood as a silent witness to a story that defied explanation, a symbol of the enduring mysteries of life, death, and the human heart.
Grandpa took off his glasses, folded them, and put them into the chest pocket of his doctor’s coat. He laid his papers in a neat stack on the coffee table.
I sat there, kind of freaked out, especially because Aidan from the story was in fourth grade, just like me.
“Give me your hand,” Grandpa said.
I held out my hand. He reached into his coat pocket and placed something smooth and round into my palm.
I looked down and screamed. It was the blue orb!
I jerked my hand and sent the orb sailing into the fireplace.
Mom clapped to show support. “Great story, Dad,” she said. “You really spooked Josh.”
I sat near Mom and she hugged me. “It’s just a spooky story, honey.”
“Man, Grandpa! You’re a good storyteller.” I laughed nervously. “Where’d you get the idea for your story?” I asked.
“From Aidan,” he said, pointing out the window to the snow-covered cedar closest to the house.
“I found the orb under the cedar tree last week before the snowstorm hit.” He yawned. “Well, I’m headed to bed. The fire should last all night, kiddo. I’m so glad you both came over today.”
Grandpa smiled, satisfied with my reaction to his story, and after Mom put the treats away in the kitchen and everyone settled down to sleep, I lay down in my sleeping bag and watched the shadows of the cedar tree dance on the living room wall, paralyzed with fear and afraid to move until morning.
Hello, world! I’m Kelly Malleck, a writer and published author based in Newcastle, Washington. I published my first book, Where Is Home: A Memoir, in September 2021. It’s available on Amazon and at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane, Washington. I published a second book, Tales from a Writers’ Circle: A Collection of Memoirs, with my memoir group, in May 2023. It’s a collection of incredible stories by five writers that have been written, revised, and shared in our group since 2018. In real life, I work full-time in digital ministry, and I’m a contributing writer for Newcastle Living Magazine where I write monthly lifestyle articles to inspire people in my community. I also enjoy participating in writing challenges to keep my skills fresh and try not to take myself too seriously!